Saturday, 8 November 2014

Magic: the Gathering free review (review)

I got the cards for free, so I'd better do my due diligence and write a free review. It's either that or buy cards and I'll be fucked if I get suckered back into paying money for Magic cards. I've got a liquor priority that wasn't around when I was fifteen which gives us some perspective.

How did I get free Magic cards? I'm glad you asked, Mr Hutton.

I volunteered for PAX last weekend running edible miniatures games. The main one was Tiny Teddies Go To War (rules are in a previous blog post) and my new invention Entree Invaders (rules are in a future post). I was thankfully assisted by the wildly creative Phroggie Puddles (net name, not birth name) and PAX kindly reimbursed us for our expenditure on miniatures and scenery (ie. food). Special thanks to Andrew, Travis and all the Enforcers. It was a good weekend.

And, long story short, PAX were giving out showbags, like you'll get at most conventions. It's a handy place to put stuff you'll pick up at the con and comes pre-packed with advertising to whet your consumer appetite.

But you dig through anyway, right? 'Cause there's bound to be something cool. Like a little bag of mints or jelly beans. Or one application of sunscreen.  A d20 would be mega-cool. Hopefully a pen; maybe some post-it notes. Maybe a little drink bottle of water, or even a (gasp) usb!

You're grateful for anything, really.

The cool thing in this showbag was Magic cards.

Elegant little pack of 30 Blue cards with some kinda important IP Blue character looking serious on the cover. Not bad. I was interested in checking out the flashy new Magic.

But I fucking hate Blue! I'm a Red player at heart. Anything's better than Blue and their you-can't-cast-your-lightning-bolt smugness!

My suspicions that more colours were available in different bags was aroused when dodgily discarded showbags began to appear in piles and confirmed when I picked up another showbag for my mate, Phroggie. He got a Black deck, and I wondered if he'd notice if I swapped his Black deck for my accursed Blue one. Probably not, and I smiled in satisfaction.

And that greed took a step further when I realised that it might be possible to get all five decks. Suddenly, I understood why someone would dump these bags.

But who was I fooling? If I did that I'd be no better than the greedy toads who had flopped up to the showbag booth, lapped up their fill, and then vomited the unwanted waste in some squatting hole of a corner where the same bloke who gave you the showbag now has to clean.

Was I really this kind of guy? Is this what getting all five Magic decks means to me? Is that the level I'd stoop to? What kind of power does this game have over me?

There's a reason why Pokemon's slogan is "Gotta catch 'em all".

No. If I'm gonna get free Magic cards I'm gonna get them with some sense of dignity.

So I waited until the end of PAX when they were desperate to give away bags and asked for a Red, White and Green set very politely. And the kind man helped me get them, happy that I was so polite, and mentioned that he had gotten himself a full set already, wink, wink, happy gaming bro, now get out because I'm fanging for a beer, nudge, nudge.

If we were greedy, we probably could have pushed it and gotten a second set so Phroggie and I had one each, but that would be greedy. Seriously, am I so desperate to own this that I need my own set?

This fucking game is an addiction! I remember when I first saw it, just over twenty years ago. Twenty years! I was a kid in high school, and it's still dragging them in today. I got in around the end of Antiquities, developed a passion for Red, was there for the Dark and Ice Age, but then bowed out of the money-laundering power of Magic and went on a White Wolf binge instead. I always maintained a wary distance to CCGs ever since. I do have a load of Jyhad cards, though.

So I'm really not wanting to be bitten again. I don't trust CCGs and I don't like the spirit of this Living Card Game format. I was very suspicious of Dominion, but have learnt that's a different, tamer beast.

I haven't even opened the pack and I've already gone out of my way to ensure that I've gotten all five colours. This thing is dangerous! It better be worth my embarrassment and not get me hooked again!

Right, so the game...?
It is worth the embarrassment. And I'm not hooked. And I'm glad to say I've got a simple, playable set of the new Magic. You can pick two colours and shuffle 'em, I'll do the same, and we can have a bit of fun without having to go crazy.

This is how Magic should be sold to beginners. Thirty cards of each colour, mash 'em up and play with your mate. All for that. I'd pay my $25 for that, I guess. But I wouldn't go further unless I were really serious about getting into it. What did I say before about getting greedy?

Magic has had a resurgence recently, and they seem to be actively marketing to old and lapsed players, which might be why they caught my eye. Looking through the cards was revealing. All the crazy powers introduced while I was away are efficiently explained on the card. Symbols are classic and the card designs are familiar and functional.

It's all very familiar, actually. Basic lands are almost as ubiquitous as polyhedral dice. There's a big critter for each deck, with welcome appearances by Shivan Dragon, Nightmare, and Serra Angel. And, most pleasantly, the decks feel right. They seem balanced, with a decent card in each deck worthwhile to a veteran. Red chucks fireballs and direct damage. Green has big monsters and enchantments. White protects, Black is evil, and Blue is the fucking counterspelling killjoy it's always been, the fucker.

And it's good. Magic was always a brilliant idea and inspired an entire gaming phenomenon, often copied and rarely bettered or even matched. Clever game design matched with a portable interface that you can attribute personal touches to. Building a deck is like creating a robot you'll send to fight in the next Recess Arena, but in your pocket!

(Note: design card game around the idea of building robots to fight. Contains different phases for Building and Arena Fights. Negotiations for Arena rules and endorsements can prolong or shorten time til the event. Workshops are hidden. May be possible to sabotage rival Workshops. Mad Scientist workshops? Put a pin in it.)

 It's a good, core game system; it always has been. But the paraphernalia can blow out of control, and it always does that. Whenever it does, it costs you a lot of money and then the sheer number of cards, possible expenditure and human quality of fellow players disenchants you from the spell. These are the kinda drug addicts who dive through showbags for more cards, ya know.

I'll remain a recreational user. I don't even have my own set. I share it with a friend. And isn't that the right way to do it, man? Is magic not measured by the company of fellow wizards, or rather should it be hoarded up for cold, impersonal satisfaction?

A mate of mine had some good advice when I mentioned interest in the new Magic. He said, "Don't do it. Pay eight bucks for the Steam game if you have to and that'll get you over it." I prefer this version and I've saved eight bucks. If you're desperate to try Magic, this is the ideal set of five promo decks to do it. If you're currently playing or not interested in Magic, then you probably don't give a shit about my opinion, I guess.

Style 3, Substance 4 (like your favourite cigarette brand has just changed recipe to a really nice flavour. Great, but it's still gonna kill you.)

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