Magic the Next Generation
- The rambling tale of an old gamer, wherein one may find hope for the future.
Once upon a time, a long time ago, I discovered Magic. It was back in the last millennium and I was in my late 20s. I lived in Texas at the time, but was back in western New York visiting family and friends, when some of my old Dungeons and Dragon playing comrades from days gone by gave me a couple starter decks of Unlimited Magic the Gathering. We cracked them open and played right out of the box. By today’s standards it was a very clumsy game with random cards of all 5 colors, but it didn't matter, I was hooked. The idea, the possibilities, I was enraptured, giddy with the joy of a whole new outlet for my imagination. I still remember my first creature, a Grey Ogre, 3 mana for a vanilla 2/2, but it looked so cool and seemed so powerful. Even though it quickly got turned into a farmer by Swords to Plow Shares, it still holds a special place in my heart.
Back in Texas I played game after game of Magic with my then wife, using our little collection of cards, refining our decks as best we could, but as those clever marketers at WoTC knew I would, I wanted more. I found a comic store that had Magic where I discover there were booster packs not just starters and Revised had replaced Unlimited. Beyond that there was a new expansion called Legends. The clerk recommended the Legends boosters, but I was cautious and only got a couple boosters of Legends and several boosters of Revised, figuring if Legends was any good I could come back the next week and get some more. Of course I was back the next week for more Legends, only to learn the grim truth about magic back then, demand way outstripped supply. There was not a legends pack to be had in the store or, I discovered after much searching, in the whole Dallas/Fort Worth area.
The game was young back then, unorganized but feverishly exciting. People played wherever they could, whenever they could, with whatever cards they happened to have. I played casual games with friends mostly. Stores didn't quite know what to do about the game back then. A few shops set up tables for open gaming but they were chaotic affairs and ended up random multiplayer games as often as duels.
Life then intervened and I ended up migrating to Ohio with a new baby daughter and stopped playing for a bit. But soon I was back looking for Magic action. I was delighted to learn that stores had begun to realized the gold mine that they had and were starting to host organized tournaments. There seemed to be little shops every where with at least a table or two for Magic. I found a nice little shop in Kent, Ohio that held tournaments every Saturday afternoon. The entry fee was one dollar and the winner walked away with a couple boosters. Ah, those where golden days back then every deck was custom made, all cards were legal, most players brought a new deck every week. The player base was largely made up of role playing gamers building their decks for personality as much as power,... but then came Necropotence.
As I had been carefully following the culture changing phenomenon that was Magic, another little culture changer was being developed, the Internet. That's right young-lings, Magic predates the commercialization of the internet in 1995. The Necropotence deck was the first "net deck" I ever encountered, and suddenly it was every where. It was like the color had been drained from the game leaving nothing but black. Also at that time the tournament scene was growing, there were starting to be bigger and bigger tournaments with bigger and bigger prizes, culminating with the announcement of the brand new Pro Tour. It was an exciting time for Magic, but a dangerous time as well, for the very heart and soul of the game was in peril.
The tone of the tournaments began to change, play became more serious with serious prizes to be had. Too well I remember the first really big prize tournament at our friendly little game shop, it was the the first time I ever saw an opponent cheat. A few months after that I traveled to another game shop for a tournament, a shop I hadn't been to before, I still credit my loss in the tournament more to the angry mob that formed around me as I began to win against the locals, than my opponents skill. I seriously had some worry for my safety should I continue to win. The days of innocent fun seemed to have gone from the game. The casual players were being pushed aside. All that seemed to be left were hyper competitive gangs of players guarding their turf and playing soulless copies of other peoples decks. Sadly, I left the game.
I tired other games, there was no shortage of them. Everyone wanted to take a piece of the Magic pie, but I never completely forgot about Magic. I continued to watch, buy a few packs of each expansion, and every once in awhile I'd find a small out of the way shop that seemed friendly, make a deck and play in a tourney. Gradually I saw Magic continue to evolve. Shops became better at running tournaments, realizing perhaps that angry mobs are not good for business, casual low cost tournaments began to reemerge, and for tournaments with bigger prizes they began to supply qualified judges. Years rolled by...
...2011, my daughter, now in high school, fell in with a group a Magic players this year. Of course I'd taught her how to play not long after she could read, and we'd played off an on since. She found she was quite good and evidently cut a wide swath through the competition at school. Thus encouraged, she wanted to take her game to the next level. I admit it was with some trepidation I found a local store that hosted tournaments and brought her along. I was pleased with what I found. The tournament was well run, rules questions were settled quickly and politely, the play was competitive but friendly, between matches people stopped to talk and even seemed to go out of their way a bit to make us feel welcome. Perhaps it's just respect of my age (one player innocently asked to take my picture so he could show his parents that "old people" can play the game), players not taking me for a threat anymore, or having my attractive daughter along, but the environment today seems much improved. We've tried a couple other venues since that first tournament with equally pleasant results. The games seems to be maturing, overcoming the awkward years of it's infancy. The early infatuation with "Pro" play seems to have settled down and people are again realizing it's a game and as such should be fun. Organizers seem to have realized while the Pro Tour may be a carrot that leads some ever onward, casual play is the foundation that supports it all. My hope is renewed. The new generation of Magic players seem to be doing things right.