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Magic Turns 30: A Look Back at Three Decades of the Gathering

A Review of the Good, Bad and Ugly

Card: Black Lotus | Art: Christopher Rush

Magic: The Gathering is turning 30 years old! If you have been living under a rock, this should not be news. By nearly any measure, one could say without a doubt that the game is a success and still going strong, especially with the blitz of products hitting the shelves this year. An objective viewer might conclude that the game is as healthy as it has ever been.

But is it?

From "official proxy" outrage to dying formats, there has been plenty for players to rant about recently. But there is also plenty to celebrate--and you don't even have to pay $1000 to do it!

The Ugly

To celebrate the occasion, Wizard’s recently released 30th Anniversary Edition, a non-tournament legal reprinting of the limited classics from Alpha, Beta and Unlimited.

Sounds cool right?

It is until you get to the price tag; $999 for a box of four packs. There is no guarantee that you will get any of the Power 9 which, let’s be honest, are the big draw of a set like this. Combined with the fact that these cards are effectively overpriced proxy cards, the collective outrage of the Magic community has been difficult to ignore.

Lest this be an anecdotal point of outrage, the market recently reacted with a downgrade of Hasbro stock by Bank of America citing consumer fatigue based on the number of products being released over the past few years.

Hardly the way Wizards of the Coast wants to launch into what is billed to be a year of celebration.

In this writer’s opinion, they could have sold the 30th Anniversary packs at $5 each and let people go nuts collecting non-tournament legal cards. How awesome would it be to construct a proxy deck using the Power 9? I digress…

The Bad

As we coast into the end of 2023, The Brothers' War is currently on the shelves. Jumpstart 2022 will be released on December 2nd and will represent the 10th major set release of the year. Looking into 2023, there are at least seven major sets slated to be released.

Will all this product further fatigue consumer sentiment?

Wizards is betting big with Dominaria Remastered, a Double Masters type of offering, covering only planes from Dominaria. In addition to that, we will return to Ixalan and Eldraine this year with an additional stop in Middle Earth. 2023 promises to tug at fans’ heartstrings by invoking rich history and sprinkling in the Holy Grail of fantasy in Middle Earth.

Some naysayers trumpet the famous line, “Every product may not be for you.” Which, while true, may be difficult for competitive players to stomach.

This past year, my deck building overlapped with this when I tried putting together a playset of Minsc and Boo, Timeless Heroes. I was able to nab the first copy at $2.50 and two weeks later had to pay $12 each. I watched as copies peaked at nearly $25 before cooling off slightly.

This is a cautionary tale. However, it hits home when a player’s desire to stay competitive collides with “every product may not be for you.” Wizards risks this sort of paradigm by releasing IP products such as the case of Triumph of Saint Katherine from Warhammer 40K, a card currently enjoying a similar trajectory as Minsc and Boo.

While I am looking forward to the releases in 2023, I also do not want to become inundated with product that is difficult to keep up with nor be forced to compete for limited chase cards to keep up with the Legacy meta.

The Good

Despite the Bad and the Ugly, and in the spirit of trying to contribute something positive to what has become an overwhelmingly negative narrative, I wanted to shine some light on the best aspects of our game and talk about the things that truly compel us to keep coming back; even when the third set in a month is coming out.

Why is it that we keep coming back in search of the next great cards? Because there is still great set design!

Between Dominaria United and The Brothers' War, Standard has been upended, Pioneer has gained many great tools (especially black!) and Commander is stronger than ever. Wizards is clearly focusing on beefing up Commander with the realization that it may be the most popular format being played today. Power creep in these formats is a real and fun aspect, affecting not just Modern and Legacy as was the case with Modern Horizons 1 and 2. I argue that this power creep adds to the fun of the game.

I also want to highlight the Magic community.

When I first started playing in 1994, my uncle’s house was our gathering place. There were eight of us that played and we routinely gathered at his kitchen table. Before there was Commander, there were four-player games, using Type 1.5 rules (now Legacy).

The teamwork, backstabbing, and resulting good times still live as some of my best memories of playing this game. When I returned to the game after a long hiatus, EDH had become huge and it was good to see that after all these years, the early memories of the game are probably the best part of what keeps people coming back.

Fast forward to current times and my 12-year-old son and I use the game to bond over our shared interests. Through our play at game stores in the Seattle area, we have gained new friends whom we have welcomed into our home, which have progressed into something more than “just some people who come over to play games.” When we go into the store we are welcomed as friends, not merely customers.

These sorts of things cannot be discounted. The “Gathering” is real.

It is a way to break down barriers between people, create new ways for people to interact, and in general create positive experiences in a time when most of what we see in the media is gloom and doom.

Bolt the Bird posted a thread on Reddit asking people what it was they liked the most about the game.

Broadly, the feedback could be summed up as the sense of community it has created. Others cited the tremendous quality of artwork and yet others cited the ability to weave together traditional fantasy and futuristic set design in a seamless way that allows the game to be played as originally intended.

End Phase

It is easy to get down on Wizards right now. Much of that criticism is rightfully deserved. So many decisions could have gone differently over the past couple of years that would have resulted in player celebration instead of what has become a daily outpouring of complaints across social media.

Yet despite that, and the claims of boycotting future products, we still return to this game that we love, and for various reasons.

I think that what really threads us all together is that even though there are many different faces, many different flavors of players, and several formats, everyone still comes back to the same communal watering hole that Wizards has created.

Let us hope that this continues into the future and that the game that has spent 30 years standing itself up as a proud leader will get back to making the decisions that got it to this point.


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