Eternity

I disagree, Mr. Spock. Beauty . . . beauty survives.

— Captain James T. Kirk, in “That Which Survives,” Star Trek season 3

Have you looked at the video of the Magic panel at the recent Comic-Con? If you haven’t, take a look at it now. At the very least, watch the first couple of minutes and pay attention to how the audience reacts to the land art that they show to open the panel. You are watching exactly what is wrong with Magic’s fanbase and so-called community.

Mark Rosewater asserts that “many players care very much about the art,” which is probably true to at least a certain extent: Magic wouldn’t have the kind of art it has, and they wouldn’t open such a major event as Comic-Con with it, if the statement were entirely false. But you can’t get this sense from much of the so-called community, especially online, many of whose members seem to see the art as a way to identify cards at best and a blank space between the mana cost and game text at worst. I’ve been admonished that “you’re supposed to play the game, not look at the pretty pictures” more than once. You might hear someone complain now and then about bad cards getting good art, which is stupid because if you like the art so much you’ll value the card even if you don’t put it in your decks, but that’s still slightly better. At least it displays some kind of an aesthetic sense, and a rudimentary understanding that Magic is about more than technical play and counting cards.

Far too many of us fail to look beyond the technical elements of the game, to their loss: Magic’s technical play is not unique, and recent competitive formats have been all too solvable, lacking even the depth of the video games that some players deride (for some reason). Further, to put it bluntly, there is nothing in Magic’s technical play that other games don’t do better. If all you want is to manage a group of cards (and make money doing so, as too many of us do), poker lets you do so without a constantly changing card pool and without the potential unbalancing elements of design mistakes. If all you wanted to do was min-max, why pick Magic over all the other opportunities to do so?

Even if you somehow did manage to overcome your dislike of fantasy stuff and become an amazing technical player, you’re not set yet. It is quite possible to be good at one format with certain content, particularly in a rotating setting such as Standard, and have your deck type vanish with a new release and take your ability to make bank with it. This is what happened (mostly) to the completely-reactive blue decks of yesteryear, and although those decks probably deserved it, it’s also a fact that many of their players have failed to adapt to the style of play enabled by new cards. The art, by contrast, is the only part of a Magic card that lasts forever. Some day the game will officially end, as everything comes to an end; there will be no more FNM, no more pro events, and no more self-congratulatory Tumblr blogs. But the art will always remain, a window into a world that exists as long as we are willing to look through it; an opportunity to look beyond the mundane concerns of this crowded, stressed planet and glimpse, for a moment, the eternal.

That’s what art offers. That’s what Magic’s art offers. That’s what we should be thinking of whenever we open a booster pack.

Forgotten lore

I’ve got a quick story today, one that has been floating around the aether for a while. It originally appeared in Scrye magazine, and as such was at risk of being lost for ever now that we rarely get news from any place where people don’t flame you for playing the “wrong” cards in your deck.

Steve Guitar of New Brunswick, Canada, was surprised
when a customer at his shop showed him a Goblin Mob
theme deck from Scourge. The problem with the cards?
The card backs were from the Wizards of the Coast’s
Harry Potter CCG.

“I called Wizards of the Coast, and they told me I couldn’t
be right,” said Guitar, owner of B&T Cards in Bathurst, New
Brunswick. “I told them I was looking right at the cards, and
they definitely exist. The customer wanted to give them back
to me. He just wanted a new deck.”

Guitar put the deck up for bid on eBay. “I checked the
next morning, and it was up to $210. I thought that was
pretty good.” The final bid was $13,100. Guitar split the
money with the original customer.

The buyer is a man from North Carolina, who, Guitar
said, isn’t even a Magic player or collector. He told me he
just wanted something unique to give to his granddaughter.
At press time, the check from the buyer was in the pos-
session of Guitar and attorneys on both sides were verifying
the legitimacy of the check and the cards, but Guitar was
confident the transaction would go through.

This is not the first time such a printing error has
occurred. In 1994, several Magic cards from the Fallen
Empires set were printed with card backs from the
Wyvern CCG.

The moral of the story? (Implying there’s only one.) The collecting community is real, and it goes far beyond the silent majority that favors the Reserved List. There’s a market for whatever you’re selling – no matter how bad, crazy, ugly, or useless it seems. And there’s not only one thing about Magic that people enjoy.

Uncharted Realms

Considering how free Wizards of the Coast has been recently about cutting story-related things and throwing around rhetorical questions like “If people liked Coldsnap, why didn’t they buy more of it?”, I would suggest that anyone who likes the Magic storylines and worldbuilding head over to the main site now and look at the new Uncharted Realms column. If you believe what they say, they keep track of how many hits each of their regular column gets (and how long people spend on the page, so be careful with that) and decide what to promote and what to cut accordingly.

There’s still way too many Spike-oriented deck tweaking articles on there for my liking (and I count Adam Styborski in that number), but one thing at a time.

The beaten path

“There is no book or teacher to give you the answers, to show you the path. Choose your own way.”

— Ezio Auditore, in Assassin’s Creed II

So, you guys remember the time I confessed my affection for repacks, right? Well, I was on Black Ninja’s website, as I sometimes am, and I saw . . . well, probably you can guess what I’m about to say, if you followed that link. If you just run the numbers, do the ratio, 4,000 Magic cards for $97 is a ridiculous deal. I’d probably take it right now if I were closer to done sorting my current collection.

There is, as we know, a love-hate relationship with repacks among Magic players. Some people use them to start their collection, but then “graduate” to buying single cards for their decks from retailers. Others ignore them altogether, deriding them for the characteristic lack of power cards (the last large set I bought had not a single copy of Incinerate, an old, often-reissued, and iconic red card); and if they buy unsorted sets at all, it’s only from new sets (ZOMFG Standard!!1). Still others presumably buy them frequently – these people are not represented in the online community, but their existence can be inferred from the fact that so many online retailers offer repacks, and many different kinds of them too.

If that last statement is a surprise to you, try to consider it from such a buyer’s point of view. Someone who had a playgroup that wasn’t interested in tournaments or Standard in general could find this very appealing. To someone who started recently but is interested in Magic’s history, a 4,000 card Black Ninja repack is rather like the TCG equivalent of one of those “Sounds of the 60s” compilation albums. Or maybe – and in this age of economic collapse, I suspect this is more common than any of us think – they’ve had the experience of looking up a card in the Standard section of a site like Troll and Toad, multiplying the price by four, and coming up with a number well over $100. Maybe they’ve gone to buy a “junk” rare after it was mentioned in a casual-play article on a popular website like MagicTheGathering.com or Star City Games, only to find that its price has doubled over the weekend because 15,000 people read the same article they did.

Money is more like time than it is like any commodity or resource: if you enjoyed the result, spending it wasn’t a waste. Which are you likely to enjoy more: four cards that have a “use-by date” in the eyes of the so-called community, or 4,000 cards that, in effect, last for ever?

Hello world!

Hello world indeed.

Since May 2008, I’ve been blogging about Magic: the Gathering from the casual/collector point of view at orbofinsight.com. Recently it’s come to my attention that it was time for a new site and a new host – so here we are. If you’re an existing follower, you probably know what to expect, but it’ll be in much nicer surroundings this time. If you’re reading this site for the first time, it’s going to be a wild ride.