Dear Mr. Rosewater (1)
Dear Mr. Rosewater,
allow me to introduce myself: My name is Andreas Pischner, and I’m from Germany. I have continuously been playing Magic since the end of 1994. I was a level-3 judge in the early days of the DCI and played on the Pro Tour a couple of times. I also worked for approximately eight years in a hobby shop, selling Magic. During the last decade I have written some three-digit-number of Magic articles for German sites. I have a reputation for voicing critical opinions very clearly and for writing about a lot of different aspects of the game.
Over the last few years I have become increasingly dissatisfied with this game, which I love, and in which I have invested large amounts of money and even larger amounts of my lifetime. Recently someone asked me why I didn’t write about my concerns to you, since you have a (probably deserved) reputation of actually reading all the mails you get, as well as a (certainly not deserved) reputation for being responsible for all things Magic. I was tempted to answer that I didn’t see the point, but after some reflection came to the conclusion that I could at least give it a shot.
Please note that I am reasonably familiar with your points of view, having read every article of yours ever published on Wizards’ sites, as well as every article written about development. Also note, that I am well aware you are neither responsible for everything I deem is going wrong with this game, nor necessarily agree with company policy all the time. However, I will write to you, since you are no doubt the public face of Magic, which should include being its ears and its voice.
Let me get out of the way that I am, by and large, a fan of your writing. Your articles tend to be the most entertaining and insightful pieces on the subject of Magic on the web, and I find myself agreeing with you a lot more often than many other people. However, I will concentrate on the points where I disagree (a growing number, lately). For brevity’s sake I will single out a specific topic which I happen to have on my mind as I’m writing to you, but I intend to mail you on a more or less regular basis from now on.
I consider these mails to be open letters, meaning that I will publicize them on my blog (https://magicthegatheringblog.wordpress.com – in case you’re interested). If I get dignified with an answer of yours, I will publicize that, too.
The starting point of my train of thought today is the preview card for Rise of the Eldrazi, Near-Death Experience, which immediately leads me to the slightly broader topic of alternate win conditions. I know you love these. I hate them. This is why: They make players play different games, when they should be playing the same game. (That’s largely the same beef I have with combo decks, which have a lot in common with alternate win conditions.)
There is a difference between using different strategies to win a game and having different goals. The former leads to variety. The latter tends to reduce interaction. Play often either degenerates into a simple race or is decided by a player having exactly the right answer for his opponent’s winning plan at the right time or not.
I guess your affection for alternate win conditions ties in with your ideas of what makes this game fun. I criticized your recent articles on that topic heaviliy, with my major point being that you confuse creating memorable moments with creating fun. Alternate win conditions create such memorable moments, but they also create boredom and frustration, and the fun you have with them is not growing out of the fun you get from playing the game, but replacing it. Cards which allow you to catch up when you’re behind are great. Cards which make former game actions irrelevant are not. Alternate win conditions tend to fall in the latter category.
After reading your articles about fun I got the impression that you severely underestimate the fun of just playing the game, of attacking and blocking, of using tricks, playing removal, discard and counters, of simply INTERACTING with your opponent. Flashy cards certainly can enhance the experience of playing Magic (and, of course, have their use in advertising and marketing the game), but they should not replace it. Magic is a much better game than R&D seems to think lately, and it doesn’t need to rely on gimmicks like five-color-spells, superfatties or alternate win conditions nearly as much as it does nowadays.
One last thought: A typical line of defense of yours is “If you don’t like the card, it wasn’t made for you”. I consider this a rather weak alibi. For one thing, I’m supposed to spend money on cards which were not made for me? If I open a booster pack and the rare is one which neither I nor the majority of players want (resulting in a lack of trade value), I have a right to complain. But more importantly, Magic is not a buffet – it’s a stew. If there is an ingredient in the mix which I despise, I cannot avoid it, unless I refuse to eat it at all (meaning that I stop playing against people who might use that card). While it is obviously impossible (and not even a sensible approach) only to print cards which everyone likes, defending cards on the grounds of “you may not like them, but others do” does not work. The DCI does bannings because they know that a single ill-conceived card can ruin a whole environment. That is even more true in casual play*.
In summary, lately Magic seems to be designed more and more for people who do not understand why playing with Grizzly Bears is fun (because playing Magic is fun!), and I was extremely disappointed to get the impression that you numbered among them.
Andreas “Zeromant” Pischner
* Note that you’ll be hard-pressed to find a casual player who refuses to play you because your deck contains Grizzly Bears, but many will – and with good reason! – if it contains Cheatyface or Shahrazad. Now, how much fun is that?