Constructed Criticism - Magic Online And The Human Element
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 game."
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 you.
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.