The Magic Touch

So I’ve been getting back to my nerd roots lately, by playing a game called “Magic: The Gathering” during lunch at work. Magic is a desperately complicated and intricate fantasy-based card game in which each player fields an army of magical creatures with  adorable names. During a play session in our office you might hear something like this:

“I’m putting out my Voracious Dragon. It eats my Goblin Mountaineer, giving it +2. You take 2 points of direct damage.”

“You suck. Well, I’m attacking with Marrow Chomper and Grixis Grimblade. He’s got deathtouch.”

“Crap. I’ll block the Chomper with Gustrider Exuberant, and I’ll throw one of my zombies under the bus to block Grimblade. And while I’m at it I’ll hit your Scornful Aether-Lich with a kicked-up Burst Lightning…”

And so forth. It’s good wholesome game that I swear in no way encourages demon-worship or secular humanism.

I’m not saying it’s all sweetness and light, however. Magic is a “collectible card game,” which is perhaps the most brilliantly evil marketing concept in gaming history. In a collectible card game, the players blow wads of cash purchasing packs of random cards, from which each creates a “deck” to do battle with the other players’ decks.  There’s a lot of random chance in the game, and a bad shuffle can destroy the bestest deck in history. But one fact is brutally true: the player who spends the most money on cards will have a significant advantage in play.

Magic is truly a wonderful example of pure capitalism in action, just like Major League Baseball. The New York Yankees spent around $200,000,000  − that’s two hundred million smackers − on players’ salaries this year, while Pittsburgh put out some $25,000,000 (which is less than what the Yankees paid Alex Rodriguez). Sure, in any given game Pittsburgh might beat the Yankees, but overall the Yanks are probably going to do better − winning the World Series while Pittsburgh ends the season 28.5 games out of first, for instance.

As a game designer I can only admire the way that Magic just sucks the money right out of your wallet. Get beat? Go buy a new “booster pack” and look for better cards. Hell, buy ten of ’em – they’re only four bucks apiece. Or if you prefer, you can buy specific cards in the after-market, the card’s price being determined by its power and rarity. Even as we speak a “Black Lotus” card is selling for $1,595.00* on Ebay.  

Amazing, isn’t it? It’s like crack for nerds!

The Black Lotus Magic Card

This Magic card can be yours for a mere $1,595!

As a player though, I have a different take on it. I don’t particularly want to spend my lunch hour playing against somebody who − because they don’t have to justify their insane expenditures to my wife − can outspend me and get better Magic cards, and most of the other players agree. So we’ve instituted a kind of socialist system in our league. If a player wins, he gets 1/3rd of a point. If a player loses, he gets 1 point. When a player accrues 3 points he can buy a new pack. It pretty much works out fine – those who are losing can pay more and buy faster than those who are winning, and everybody’s purchases are kept within the realm of fiscal sanity.

I’m sure this is a perfect metaphor for something going on in the world today. With some work I’m bet I could figure out a way to use this to teach us all a valuable lesson about health care, say, or the housing crisis. But I know one thing for certain: there are no lessons here that should be applied to Major League Baseball.

I’m a Yankees fan. Major League Baseball is just fine.




*Plus $3.50 for shipping, which is a nice touch.


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6 Responses to “The Magic Touch”

  1. Scott Says:

    $1595?! I’m sad now. I think I sold mine for like $100 along with the rest of the alpha deck. I do still have 100 cards or so floating around (don’t remember if these are the beta deck or from the first released sets). Interested? 🙂

  2. Liz Murphy Says:

    Oh No! Bad memories of my childhood are screaming in my head. Dungeons and Dragons……”step on the dwarf, kill him” and similar calls echoed through our house. This all, while I was trying to watch the Brady Bunch in peace!!!

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