Running the Future Part 1
I hate Magic.
Well, I don’t mean to say that I hate generic magic of the hand-waving, Latin spewing variety. Though followers will certainly know I have a certain amount of disdain for its general deus ex machina application, I do like a certain amount of fantasy and wonder in my stories. No, dear reader, it is Magic: The Gathering for which I hold an especially dire attitude towards. For those unfamiliar, Magic: The Gathering (abbreviated to M:TG though I’ll probably just refer to it by Magic with a capital) is a collectible card game by Wizards of the Coast. Many might recognize its name for it is probably the most successful collectible card game on the market. It is certainly one of the longest lived. As such, it has a long history and thusly I with it.
I got into Magic in those early formative middle school years. My predilections for nerdy endeavours is well recorded and I am not ashamed to admit that one of the biggest draws to the hobby was the art. In my young eyes, I saw an array of menacing dragons, heavenly angels, daring wizards and diabolical cultists. The texts spoke of far off planes and glorious battles between mighty conjurers. To have these wondrous creatures in a game with powers that reflected their design tickled by boyish interest. I hobbled together a deck of my favourites and sought out worthy competition to pit them against.
I’m fairly certain my first game was an utter disaster. I’m not sure I even included any land cards which are required to summon your critters to the field of battle. Course, when you’re young, you don’t really care. All that matters is planting that Scaled Wurm and letting it rip into your opponent’s line. In my mind’s eye, I could see the mangled bodies and corpses of my opponent’s useless soldiers slowly sliding down into a monstrous gullet. In time, my collection grew as I sifted through the discard and junk bins of hobby stores looking for the coolest art and best prices. I met some like minded individuals and we would spend our hours battling decks against decks sometimes in chaotic five or more player free for alls.
But then a change took hold one of friends. He was a later adopter, joining us in our small circle to peer with wide eyed wonder and the incomprehensible battle lines drawn between us. With enthusiasm, we indulged his curiosity and showed him the basics of the game. Little did we know this innocuous moment would herald the end. For, you see, this friend was Steve and much like me, he had a very competitive spirit.
Of course, there is a very distinct difference between my competitiveness and Steve’s. I approach any sort of challenge with the intention of winning but through fair application of the rules and masterful strategies. Steve, on the other hand, wouldn’t let something as inconsequential as “fair play” get in the way of his victory. He was an incorrigible cheat, often requiring a keen eye to insure he wasn’t stashing some cards up his sleeves or rigging his deck. As with all cheats, their reliance on breaking rules to gain victory stunts their natural tendency to learn and master the game. Unfortunately, because I alone kept a close eye on Steve’s machinations, he was forced to find other avenues to trump me.
This came along with the development of the Internet. For we were in the throes of the digital revolution. Information was spreading at a faster rate than ever before. The World Wide Web provided an unimaginable wealth of knowledge to those with the drive and persistence to sort through it. While most our age focused their use in forbidden images of erotic titillation, Steve discovered the realm of competitive Magic: The Gathering. Here was a new way to view the game the likes of which none of us had imagined. What was a friendly and casual battle of wits between my friends held a completely alien and dark world beneath. Steve showed up one day to our little circle in the quietest and forgotten of halls, proudly plopping down beside us and gloriously revealing a new deck. We were curious and excited, new cards often being a cause for celebration as we enjoyed what flavour the handful of printed diabolical critters could bring.
What Steve unleashed upon us that day, however, was nothing short of the apocalypse.
All of us fell in turn, even my mighty control deck brushed aside like it was a gnat before an irritated hunter. Steve was out for blood, and it would be ours that would first stain his sword. He hadn’t arrived with a few new cards integrated into the old but with an entire suite of entirely new and baffling rules and mechanics. Now, he didn’t need to cheat to win. His deck would do it for him.
It was then I learned about Magic’s deck-building structure. As with any arms race, I too turned to the Internet to understand this new foe before me. But what I found was horrifying. Untold combinations and competitive decks were listed about. I learned that we had simply been playing a quaint themed game like children holding a match of checkers with Mahjong tiles. There were lists of cards and combos that were banned because of their ability to complete destroy the nature of the game. There were great debates over adjudicating the reams of cards in order to keep an even playing field at the highest level of play. And in order to enter that field, you had to have the expense to acquire any of the legally sanctioned cards on the lists.
In short, I learned that Magic: The Gathering was a pay to win game.
That may be a bit reductionist, but the essence is still there. For me, I approached the game as a hobby. I got my decks from the 25 cent bin over the course of months. Some of the best cards could sell for twenty or thirty dollars a piece and that’s not even touching the out of print cards worth hundreds of dollars. Put simply, I was too poor to play the game. I quickly retired, shelving my cards in a box for years until I found someone to offload them on. Meanwhile, I watched as a slow change came over my friends. In order to keep up with Steve, each one of them begun to buy more and more into the hobby or drop out entirely like I did.
As for Steve, he eventually entered into tournaments. He was the sort of person that would go full throttle into whatever he set his mind into. He borrowed my Mist Dragon – a favourite card of mine that I happened upon by serendipitous fortune. It managed to “go missing” during the tournament. I’m convinced that he lost it in a match, likely holding it as ante before succumbing to someone with some new devious twist of the mechanics.
Course, this long story has nothing to do with what I wish to discuss today. For I have been tasked with creating two decks before Derek returns home from class. But these decks are not for Magic: The Gathering. This is for Android: Netrunner created by the man behind Magic: The Gathering and totally not the same thing.
And on Friday, I will tell you why it isn’t.