Thursday, October 28, 2010

A question for the Magic players

Along the lines of my previous post. A question of curiosity.

So, I'm not really that likely to go out and buy Magic cards any time soon.
But for the sake of this blog post, let's assume that I am a player who used to play Magic, quit the game and got rid of all of his cards about 15 years ago, and was interested in starting anew.

When I played Magic, I didn't participate much in the "tournament scene". I was a pure casual player. I maybe played in 2 or 3 tournaments and didn't make much of a showing.

If I were to buy Magic cards today, it would be just enough to create 2 casual decks that are balanced against each other, to sit on a shelf and occasionally pull out to pass the time, perhaps even to play with my wife or (when he's old enough to sit still at a table holding a hand of cards) my son. So the tournament rules are not that important.
That being said, I hate going out and buying cards for a still-living game that are not legal to play with outside of my bubble. It bugs me.

A note on the word "legal": I am strictly talking about the Magic "Type 2" format here; I understand that there are formats where you can play with most cards since Day 1, but those formats don't really apply to the hypothetical "starting the game with only new cards" player.*

With VTES, that was never a problem; other than an extremely small ban list (most of which were banned for mechanical reasons rather than power reasons), every card since 1994 is perfectly legal to put into a deck. There aren't even any technical deckbuilding restrictions other than the Grouping Rule.
With Magic (as far as I understand), there is only a list of five cards that *are* guaranteed to be legal from the dawn of history until the end of time: the Basic Lands.

So, I came across this product called the "Deckbuilder's Toolkit". It's cheap. Almost cheap enough to buy one anyway for a one-time goof.
But the question arises: What is the legality of the cards contained within? Are they currently legal and when will they stop being legal? (by the above definition of "legal")

If they are not currently legal, or will 'expire' soon, then what is the current recommendation you'd give to a brand new player starting from scratch and wanting a cheap start?
Would you still recommend the Toolkit anyway?

Please be as specific as you can with answers. Don't talk to me as if I'm a Magic player who understands all the formats and the culture of the game. Talk to me as if I'm oblivious and found this game on a shelf, and you want to make sure I make the right decision.

Yes, this is still just a matter of hypothetical curiosity.

Bonus question:
Let's say that the latest "block" has Serra Angel in it (which I think it does). Let's say I am a player who played "back in the day" and still had my original cards.
Would it be legal for me to include my Beta-printing Serra Angels in a modern tournament-legal deck?

(VTES does have that strange quirk that, even though all cards are legal, you can't use any new-expansion cards within 30 days of release, even if they're reprints of otherwise-easy-to-acquire commons).


  1. I used to play magic, too. After I quit the game and sold my magic cards I continued to play draft events for a while. I kept asking until someone agreed to pay my reg. fee so I play free and ofc he/she gets all the cards at the end of the event.

    Magic is an awesome game to draft! If you don't want to do what I wrote above, just buy any display and draft with friends. Later on just shuffle all the cards together, create random piles and draft again...

  2. Thanks for your input, Mephistopheles.

    I forgot to add that other factor:
    I don't have *time* to play organized events either.

    But my question was really about theory: How does a new player start playing on a limited budget, knowing that most of his cards will be obsolete within some amount of time?

  3. Lay off the crack, son. I'm sure there's plenty of decent boxed 2-player games left out there.

  4. Since your aren't buying enough cards to play in a tournament anyhow ignore the tournament type rules. I recently bought a few starter decks to try Magic with my son. We got enough to make decks of each color to play against each other. It was fun. Are my cards still "tournament legal"? I have no idea. Who cares?

  5. I never said I'm buying any cards.
    I'm speaking in theoreticals since I started flipping through the rules out of curiosity. I just want to know how "they" handle things these days...

  6. The obsolescence of cards in Magic is way overstated. Basic cards get reprinted fairly often when new base sets come out. Cards from advanced sets sometimes get reprinted as well.

    Of course, the percentage still isn't that high as Magic has a minimum of 3 sets a year.

    Really, a perfectly viable way to go if you want to get value out of what you buy is to take the more valuable cards (look online for price guides), unload them when they are still legal, keep the stuff that's not worth anything, repeat whenever you get more cards. Probably won't cost virtually anything and the collection of commons and weird stuff will continue to grow. It's similar to how often drafters just sell their rares after the drafts to fund more drafts.

    Anyway, yes, you can play a Beta Serra Angel while Serra is legal. I'm not sure in her case at the moment as the angel people have been playing is Baneslayer. Lightning Bolt is legal, so, sure, Beta Bolts. Not Alpha because the cuts are different on Alpha cards, not that this matters much.

    If you want cards that are more likely to be legal at any given time, buy only from the base sets. Not as interesting, but they've gotten better than the likes of Fifth Edition, Sixth Edition. I can't remember off the top of my head what the reprint % is on the next base set, but it's not trivial.

    Not that I expect it to be of any help, but the only format I play is Type P, a local concoction designed specifically to minimize investment while enabling a large amount of play from a sealed deck pool. It's quirky, and it only really works if you have other P-ers, but I have around 100 Type P decks and I'm the crazy person who missed the concept of minimal investment.

  7. Curevei has good ideas here. When I used to play this game but lost interest in it, enough to stop spending too much, I bought a few packs and traded the rares back to the store to get credit for more packs. This could get me maybe a starter and 5-6 boosters or maybe 9-10 boosters for the price of 4-5 boosters. Of course, you need to have a store that buys back the rares and the demand for the cards.

    I think the basic sets are "legal" longer and in my opinion they are more fun and challenging with which to make decks. The story sets are set up to make/force you use a given mechanic in my opinion. Again, it is only my opinion, but this hampers creativity. The basic sets still, although less than in the early days of this game, force you to search out the creative side of deckbuilding with a given/limited pool of cards.

    The whole drafting thing can still be fun too as mephistophiles mentioned.


  8. Thanks for the input so far, guys.

    It definitely sounds like Magic has structured itself so you can choose to:

    * play in a vacuum where legality doesnt matter and still have fun


    * play at the tournament level and be a cog in the "machine" of trading/selling back your unwanted rares in exchange for new cards while they are all still legal.

    And technically, this hypothetical person could go out and buy the Deckbuilder Toolkit and probably make back the money he paid for it by selling the rares from the enclosed boosters.

    Am I picking up what you're throwing down?

    It definitely is a different world from the one where VTES has ever lived...

  9. Josh,

    In case someone didn't mention it (as i am guilty of only skimming the above). If you have a Serra Angel from 1996 it would be legal in todays current Standard decks, because Serra angel has been reprinted in the most current base set Magic 2011.

    I play MtG:online and find it fun, if clunky, format. I spend about $20 per set and buy commons and uncommons and do fairly well in play against power decks. Minely i play with friends online using Skype to chat and interact. Not ideal, but when most of your friends are light years away you do what you can.

    Greg Williams

  10. Not only are old printings legal, but they get you style points!

    It used to be that Core sets were released every other year, and contained 100% reprinted cards. about 80% of the set would stay the same between iterations. The last two core sets saw a change, where they were released annually, with 50% reprints (most of the new cards are Rare or Mythic (a new rarity of the last 3 years - any given mythic card occurs 1/8th as often as a rare).

    That being said, I play casual weekly, and tournaments quarterly. I only play limited events at tournaments, because I think that it's more fun. In my play group, we play all sorts of crazy casual formats, which have seen a renaissance of late.

    As for the deckbuilder's toolkit in particular. I've heard that it is a good box for the player with nothing. it mostly contains medium-old cards, not worth much, but an interesting smattering.

    Outside of my weekly playgroup, which plays all sorts of decks, mixing old, new, powerful, and wacky cards, I sometimes play with Kathleen or my brother-in-law, or father-in-law, just with whatever decks I have together. Even if not all the cards are currently legal, it is fun.

    Building a deck that's standard (type 2) legal, good, and fun can be done for $5. We had a tournament at my store a few months ago, and I went to #4 in a 32-man tournament with a deck containing no rares or mythics, costing under $3 to build, and was a lot of fun to play.

    The cost of a tournament-grade excellent deck has gone up significantly in the past few years. A serious top-tier deck costs hundreds of dollars, and cycles every year or two.

    As for immediate legality, Every card is legal as of release date. This includes previous prints or foreign language printings, and special promo releases, so long as it's not a gold or silver border (released as special sets). unusual versions are sought after by some players, and older/modified/funny wording versions are respected by many players.

    So, I think you could buy the toolbox, or you could email me your mailing address, and I could send you a box of my extra commons (I buy a lot of cards, and have a lot of extras).


  11. Tournament viability is measured in dollars? Ick.

    I'm not going to buy any cards.. I probably shouldn't have started reading about it. It just seems like they have turned the game into something (mechanically) a little more streamlined than it used to be.

  12. It is very mechanically solid, and very strategically diverse these days. There're probably 20+ archtypes that make top eight at the serious tournaments.

    There is also a grumbling in the community about the rise of prices for tournament viability. 3 years ago, it was maybe $100 to build a competitive deck.

    Part of the problem is that the game is so popular, that there is high demand for cards, and there are a lot of cards - nearly 1000/year. VTES only has a card pool of 1500 cards or so, right?

    The other part of the problem is that Wizards introduced a new rarity level a few years ago - and have increasingly printed powerful cards at that rarity. This has annoyed the players, but we still love the game. You don't have to run those few expensive cards to have fun, or even to do well!

  13. To clarify one of the most popular formats - "Type 2" (aka "standard"), made up of the last 2 years of cards, has about 1500 cards in it. "Extended," the last 4 years of cards, has 3500.

    Vintage - the "everything" format (and also the pool that casual magic pulls from), has about 11300 cards. This means that there's a lot of variability, and a lot of opportunities for creativity.

  14. Comparing the economics of VTES and Magic is not easy.
    First off, there's a relatively smaller pool of cards, for sure.. 1400-ish crypt cards (governed by the Grouping Rule) and 2100-ish library cards. But there's also no per-card limit in a deck.
    Second, there are a lot more variables in deckbuilding. Instead of 5 or 6 "colors", there are lots of clans, disciplines, sects, and other "requirements" to base your decks on.
    Third, the VTES rarity curve is different. Generally speaking, rarity is a measure of how many copies of a card you would want or need in your collection/deck. So there are plenty of "rares" that are totally crappy cards, on purpose.
    Fourth, some of the most powerful cards in the game are commons that are abundantly available, effectively for free.
    Fifth, the nature of a multiplayer game is that there is no "guaranteed good deck" to win a game. Stuff happens, so skill and dumb luck are much larger factors in the game. There are certainly "tier 1" decks, but they don't always win.

    All that just to say "you can measure Magic tournament viability in dollars? ick."


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