Returning to the Fold: Thoughts on Magic the Gathering’s Hour of Devastation Game Day

7 Aug

By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)

I wonder if I’m in the minority of Magic the Gathering (MtG) players who want to enjoy the game in a less competitive sense? I am a casual player where I prefer to imagine myself as Gandalf battling Saruman ala The Lord of the Rings. Although the white wizard was imprisoned on top of a tower in Fellowship and had very little power to access to escape, that’s how I feel at times with this game. I’m lacking the mana to get anywhere.

For the inexperienced, playing in the variety of in-store events depends on what you are after. I never expected to win many games because I have not touched the game for more than ten years, and the “new” deck archetypes and terminology I’m hearing are different than those that defined my era.

The competitive scene is a meat-grinder. It is not kind to a newcomer or returning player like me who has spent money on a box of booster packs and select cards to maybe make a challenge-worthy deck. The only time the playing field is level is with Draft or League games where the cards are locked to the packs you buy, and the random chance of maybe getting a game-changing card like Glorybringer.

Veterans to this game may well scoff at me. The weekend was Hour of Devastation Game Day and I thought why not, let’s see how many people I can shock by playing an untraditional deck. Instead of copying the winning formula with the Ramunap Red deck, I changed it around by combining it with a bit of foliage (green). One player was surprised I did that. Game Day is for fun. For me, it’s to experiment with a variant; if I can draw the right cards out early on, the deck can win and I did score one out of every six matches.

With those kind of odds, I knew I was going to be knocked out early on (the fights are through the Swiss tournament system). I hardly cared about where I ranked. I was there to socialize and observe. While the Red Deck looked like it was dominating many tournaments, it leads me to think the game designers are not doing their job properly. They should be balancing out each colour so no person can vie to become the Queen of Hearts. Yes, I’m thinking about Alice in Wonderland right now.

At the same time, I have noticed there is no innovation with decks given the huge range of cards players can play with. I’m not sure if my opponents are simply playing the same deck which won at the big competitions, and if they are, they should not be allowed to play at all. They should bring in their own home-brew. In today’s age of the internet and the online market, players can buy those killer decks. I’m calling Wizards of the Coast out to enforce a method to prevent the use of information from top winning decks posted online. I’m guessing one of my opponents whom I had to face spent the money for one and brought it to Friday Night Magic and Game Day to play to win.

Each expansion is strong in some regard and the players I talked to agree that to offer several sets (called blocks in the community) to build from is not ideal for tournament play. For a weekend event meant to promote Hour of Devastation, I assumed the decks should be built within the current expansion (like the pre-release or sealed events). An easy solution to require the latest set to fill 75% of the deck and the rest can come from others (from the last two years). Judges can easily check since there are symbols on each card showing where they came from.

While I continue to enjoy playing digital versions like Magic Duels (pictured above) where I first started, I find myself having mixed feelings about the public events. Newcomers and returning players can have fun participating in League, Draft and Sealed events. The more experience you have, the better you are at surviving. But for the others, you are getting involved in a shootout at the O.K. Corral. I knew what I was getting into by jumping out of the frying pan and deep into the fire, and after a couple more months, maybe the cooker will be set to simmer.

Magic Digital Next (MDN) is set to offer new experiences when it comes out later this year. I believe it is replacing Steam game. As for the fate of Magic Online, it will most likely remain even though I loathe the user interface. Rumours about MDN functioning like a MMORPG is good news to me. I can imagine players exploring a realm where they will be pulling out their pile of cards like Gambit (X-Men) whenever they face an opponent. These cards can be thrown to hurt opponents in specific ways. In this case, we will be two wizards attempting to page through magical tomes to invoke the right magik to defeat the other. Now I can get behind this product if it is as I have described.

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