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It's a Kind of Magic

Sean Sands | 12 Jul 2009 13:00
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How is it even possible that a card game released in 1993 can hold such sway more than 15 years later? Ms. Chase attributes it to the R&D, the organization of the play team and the business model. Having played the game now, I equally attribute its persistence in the zeitgeist and cultural lexicon of the executive nerd to a willingness to stay current where others might rest on a sleepy bed of comfortable laurels. Elaine puts it succinctly: "Our challenge is to keep Magic relevant to today's digital gamer." Apparently the way to do that is to plug the system into a format now closely tied with casual gaming, and make it seem harmless and approachable.

But, of course, the approachability of Duels of the Planeswalker quickly becomes its own handicap. It's impossible to collect more than a handful of new cards. You can't really do anything in the way of deck building. The strategies are handed to you, and you sense how dramatically randomness can thwart your efforts. That deck-building desire is never sated, and as quickly as you are through the gateway into the world of Magic, the door shuts behind you with a wild eyed mad-man version of yourself holding the key.

I asked Elaine about the decision to handicap deck building in the Xbox Arcade game. Couched in the safe and fair context of creating an understandable framework for new players, she points out, "When you're ready for deck customization, there are other Magic offerings waiting for you in the form of the paper game or Magic Online."

I have taken Wizards of the Coast up on their offer, and since moved on to Magic: The Gathering Online, where I bought my first Tenth Edition starter deck - or deck of any kind for that matter - along with a handful of boosters. It's casual, a toe dipped into the icy waters with no intention to dive in for any length of time; or so I keep telling myself. But, if that's true, then why am I wearing this SCUBA gear?

I have wracked up an impressive string of losses in casual play, and I know - I KNOW - it's because I just haven't quite put together a nice competitive deck yet. Maybe I'm relying too heavily on creatures when I don't have enough artifacts to bolster my efforts. After all, I have these cards that give bonuses when I attack with only one creature so what I maybe need to do is reinforce based on that strategy. But, I don't really have the right cards yet to execute that strategy.

Maybe just one more booster, then. Just to see.

Sean Sands is a professional writer and co-founder of He is also totally not going to get addicted to Magic, and is just hanging out at the games store because of the air conditioning.

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