Constructed Criticism – Magic Online And The Human Element

Friday, March 11 – Todd Anderson delves into the true nature of Magic Online and why it’s insufficient if you want to become better than merely good enough.

I’m generally the guy giving you decklists, riding on the edge of the grind, bringing you the best information I can about topics that matter to you,
the fellow grinder. But today will not be one of those days. The reason? I haven’t played that much lately because I’m honestly a little worn out with
all of the Magic Online play.

Where’s the connection to your fellow player? Where’s the camaraderie? The only people I talk to on the program are people who I’ve gotten to know in
real life and made a lasting connection with. At some point, you have to turn off the monitor and just go grab some real cards and start slinging. I
plan on attending a lot more live events soon, so having a firm grasp on reality and all things in it seems like a good plan. I haven’t seen much of
the sun lately, and the gaming store has large windows, so let’s go get a tan (LOL).

Magic Online is like morphine for people addicted to heroin. Sure, it will suffice, but when you start itching, there’s just nothing like the real
thing. I’m one of those people who literally get high off of winning at Magic, and it’s oh so much sweeter when you’re winning in real life. The sick
brags. The inside jokes. The sick rags. The fellowship. These things bring an experience to life that’s tough to put into words.

Actually playing Magic is so much more fulfilling, on so many more levels, than Magic Online, and it has taken me a long time to realize it. Personal
interaction feels so much better. I don’t want to become a WOW shut-in like so many of my old friends, so I think the time is nigh for me to become
more social, and not where I go out drinking all the time (though that might follow the actually playing of Magic).

When we boot up Magic Online, we’re taking for granted all of the things that make Magic truly great, just so we can simulate the experience to a small
degree. Sure, we’re “grinding” and potentially making money off the winnings, but what percentage of people do you think actually make a living, or
even make any money at all, from playing Magic Online? What incentive do you have to play it other than just increasing your technical game? Magic
Online lets you learn the rules a lot better and teaches you that there’s no such thing as a “takesies backsies,” but you don’t learn to think outside
the box. You become a machine that learns to tap your mana perfectly, make the automatic plays, build the stock decks, and never try anything out
before someone else does it. It makes you afraid of change.

I’ve fallen into a trap of sorts, where I constantly play, and I think I’m getting better because I’m winning, but I don’t have anyone to critique my
plays, suggest better plays, or just suggest better cards; I’m just not figuring out what I can do to better myself.

Winning makes you lazy. I’m stuck in my own head, staring at a computer screen, occasionally messaging some random person and asking them their opinion
of things. “What card should I play in the three-drop slot? What sideboard plan do you think is best?” These paltry discussions do not make up for the
lack of the human element that live Magic brings. Different perspectives, no matter how incorrect you may think they are, give you certain insight that
you didn’t have before. If anything, they let you know how other people might think, so you can make better guesses about what decks people might play
or what other people might do.

The human element of Magic is a great thing to behold. No one is ever “right” about Magic, since literally everything about the game is relative. In
every single tournament, every single match, and every single game there are an infinite number of possibilities that could affect the outcome.

Oh, you spilled your drink on my cards? Guess you lose. Phone call made you forget to play a land? Sorry buddy. Sure these examples are extreme, but
the number of variables involved in each decision is ludicrous. The deckbuilding scenario alone has an insane number of variables, and you can never
know what to expect out of your opponent until they cast card you didn’t consider and lose to it because you weren’t mentally prepared to beat it.
“Yes, I know Mortarpod is a good Limited card, but who would fetch it up with Stoneforge Mystic? It only kills….oh wait. Yeah that seems okay. Good

That’s where having different perspectives becomes helpful, and the lack thereof can be detrimental. I never thought of playing U/G Merfolk with
Chameleon Colossus until a friend of mine did it at FNM a few years ago. It was actually pretty good. This got me thinking outside the box a little
bit, which is great for anyone aspiring to be a great deckbuilder. The best deckbuilders in the world come up with nine crappy ideas before they find a
gem. Did you know that even “bad” players come up with great ideas from time to time? But if no one is around to recognize their potential, then
they’ll just collect dust and be forgotten about.

While perspectives are nice and all, Magic is really about building friendships with the people you meet. I’ve met almost all of my best friends,
including my wife, through Magic. I know hundreds of people throughout the entire world that I wouldn’t have known otherwise, and every bond I’ve made
has a story behind it, with Magic at the epicenter. Without the game’s existence, I never would’ve met any of these people, and while I’d probably be
more successful, I’d be much less happy. My friends mean everything to me, and without them, Magic would be unbearable. Kali and I will occasionally
drive up to Huntsville, about an hour and a half away, just to hang out with friends we met playing Magic. Because they’re just fun to hang out with.
We rarely even play Magic while we’re there, which says a lot about the people, but even more about the game. That’s the beauty of the game, as it just
brings like-minded, intelligent, competitive people together. I shine around these kinds of people, and they shine around me.

Winning at Magic is an important aspect, but it shouldn’t be the only aspect. With Magic Online, that’s essentially what Magic becomes, a series of
wins and losses as opposed to experiences from where you can delve useful information. Sure, you can learn about certain cards being better against
certain matchups, but you lose the ability to get a read off someone, or figure out what cards are in their hand based on how they tapped their mana,
or the flicker in their eye when they draw a card. You miss out on a lot of things you wouldn’t get to see if the person wasn’t sitting in front of

Winning shouldn’t mean everything, but it should mean a lot. The thing that drives most competitive Magic players is the spirit of competition and the
prospect of earning a large sum of money or other prizes. Without these incentives, there would be much less time and energy devoted to the game,
including this lovely website you’re currently browsing while reading this article.

However, just having large prizes will not make your game that much better. Dreamblade and Versus System showed us those fallacies. The game of Magic
has changed a lot over the years, but the core of it has remained mostly intact. If you asked someone who hadn’t played Magic since Tempest to play a
casual game, he’d probably read every card, but he could function and probably finish out the game. The problem with other games is that they weren’t
built properly for the long run. Magic gives itself the ability to evolve rules to make the game more fun. Magic makes more sense than any other
game I’ve ever played.

One thing I always hated with other games was their lack of focus on Limited. Some games did okay, but Magic has, for a long time, been devoted to the
Limited player and the drafting aspect of the game. You get to play with cards and have solid interactions that you would otherwise never have known
existed, outside the realm of passing whimsy. Limited creates an environment where other cards get to shine. Dragons reign supreme. Seven-casting-cost
rares will see the light of day. People will see what the designers saw when they were building the set. They’ll get to see the true potential of every
card created. They get interaction.

Drafting (and all forms of Limited) give more reasons for bad cards to exist. Without the bad cards, Constructed formats would be far too powerful, and
expansions would probably be less than half the size they currently are. Drafting gives uses to bad creatures and combat tricks that would never see
play in Standard.

Change. Versatility. Creatures trading in combat. These are all things that are much more frequent in Limited than Constructed and reasons that make it
as much, if not more, fun. It keeps the game healthy and diverse, and it also sells a large number of booster packs that a lot of the people wouldn’t
normally buy. I remember the first time I opened a Chrome Mox in draft, when they were twenty bucks a pop, and I slammed it home. It was like drafting
was a bonus I got for buying and opening booster packs. What could be better than that for someone trying to sell product?

Mythic rares have already helped to increase the sale of booster packs by an unimaginable margin. Dealers will open so much more product to sell as
singles when people will pay more for a single card than an entire booster box costs. That, in turn, entices other people to just buy booster boxes
themselves instead of singles, increasing the sale of product even more. Honestly, I think it’s ludicrous that some cards are reaching such high
prices, but the rarity level shouldn’t affect it that much. Mythic rares aren’t that much rarer than regular rares, so I have to figure that
these price spikes are mostly due to the secondary market; the demand with a much larger player base has increased, while the supply has decreased.

While Magic Online growth has increased in the last two years due to the MOCS and online PTQs, I think that it helps reach out to a much broader
audience. Most people who use Magic Online just supplement their live play, but there are plenty of others from countries all around the world who have
no local community and need an outlet for gaming. While I feel bad for some of these people, who won’t know what it means to attend a Friday Night
Magic, I also feel good that they’ve found a way to reach a player base they wouldn’t normally be able to reach. The working dad can play after his kid
goes to sleep. In turn, he can teach his kid to play. The thirteen-year-old in the middle of rural Georgia, where the nearest gaming store is over an
hour away, has a place to play. In turn, he can teach his friends to play. The genius living in Alaska like an idiot, ice-fishing for salmon, has
something to do when he comes home and it’s snowing outside. Magic encourages him to move to somewhere a bit warmer, where he has more friends and a
much happier life (Burklid Durklid).

While Magic Online does a decent number of things wrong, it does a lot of stuff right. It should never be a replacement for live play, which it has
slowly become for me. Instead, it should be used as a tool to help your game and not to replace your friends. Now, get yourself out of the house
tonight and go play some FNM. God knows we need someone to figure out how to smash Caw-Blade. That deck is ridiculous.

Thanks for reading.