Friday, January 11, 2013

Growing Up in the d20 Dark Ages (Part 6)

Building upon the rise of WotC/Magic the Gathering/fall of TSR theme of this week..

Did Magic: The Gathering tear apart your RPG group in the 1990s?

For me, it didn't. Yet through Dragon Magazine and a couple sections in the Fantasy Role-playing Gamer's Bible (published in 1995), I knew things were amiss. Even the local gaming store, M&M Comics and Games, seemed more interested in stocking Magic: The Gathering than D&D stuff (at least until it burned down...)

Still, I didn't give M:tG much thought until the new guy came to my high school in my sophomore year.  Let's call him Jason. See, Jason liked M:tG. I mean really liked it. He kept talking about it, trying to get people to play. Apparently all the cool kids were now playing M:tG at the high school he'd just transferred from.

Jason seemed an all right guy, despite being a Freshman. He fit well into my little circle of friends. So invited him to play in my Greyhawk Campaign. He declined. D&D takes too long to play, he said. M:tG takes only 20 to 30 minutes to play, he said. It takes that long just to roll up a character in D&D, he said. And nobody played D&D anymore where he came from, he said.

Okay, fine. I'll try the game. I played it with him a few times during study hall or over the lunch hour using his cards. I thought it was okay. It was fun. I could see why people liked it. The artwork was cool. You could carry a deck in your pocket for quick games. And the rules were simple. I could understand its appeal, but I wasn't gonna go all evangelical for the game like Jason.

So I bought the starter boxed set and a handful of boosters, about a $35 investment, if I recall. And so I built my deck (I don't remember which color). I played against Jason several times and lost each time. Afterwards, he informed me of my problem:

I had too few good cards to chose from. I needed more of the uncommons and rares so I could develop hard to beat combos. This, of course, meant that I had to buy more cards.

But I didn't want to. 

Back then, $35 was about the cost of a D&D boxed set, and you got lots of goodies with it. I didn't want to spend more on cards, when almost three fourths of them I wouldn't use and each booster pack  seemed to contain more land and common cards than I needed. Oh yeah, and the randomization...

Overall, I thought the game was a bit of a rip off for what you got for your money.

(Later on, however, I bought a bunch of Spellfire cards at a deep discount just to see what the deal was with the card game TSR supposedly created in a weekend).

My Greyhawk Campaign players really weren't interested in playing these new collectible card games.

So Jason and I were the only ones in my school who I knew  played M:tG.  And later that year, he transferred back to the school he'd come from. That meant no more playing M:tG. My cards sat in a box until college. And my Greyhawk Campaign went on, unscathed, despite the rumblings in the RPG industry and the eventual demise of TSR.

In 1997, I graduated high school and went to college that fall. I was looking forward to gaming with new people,  playing D&D or trying out different systems.

That fall I quickly found the local college roleplaying and wargaming club. The only problem: nobody played RPGs anymore, let alone wargames. The M:TG club had taken over. Okay, fine. I'll play. Just let me go home and get my cards. So I did. At the first meeting I showed them my cards. "Sorry," the president said. "Your type I cards are not legal anymore. We only play with legal cards because were an official M:TG club."

Huh? I bought these only two years ago. 

I'll go into further detail of my gaming adventures (or lack thereof) in college at a later date. Suffice to say, I didn't have much fun at my first year at college. I was in Computer Programming (which I loathed by the second term I was there), and I nobody played my favorite game,  D&D, or even wanted to try it. M:tG and its Collectible Card Game clones were everywhere.

Even the local gaming store owner wanted to go back to just selling comics, RPGs, and Warhammer. He lamented to me once: "I don't like CCGs. Running the tournaments can be such a chore. And I hate Pokemon, hate it! But they pay the bills..."

If there was a Dark Age in my 22+ years of gaming, it was that first year or two in college. M:TG had trounced RPGs there and then to rub salt on the wound WotC bought out TSR. People kept trying to run RPGs, but Magic: The Gathering just dominated everything for awhile.

Fortunately, I still had my school buddies I could continue running my Greyhawk Campaign on weekends or the holidays when we'd be back home.

So, in the end, Magic: The Gathering didn't tear apart my D&D games. It just prevented me from playing or running them for about two years. Others, from what I've heard and what people have told me, and what I've read, weren't so lucky. I can only imagine how frustrating it'd be as DM, who'd just invested a lot of time, money, and work into a campaign, to have a campaign end because of a CCG.

What are your experiences?


  1. Yeah, I was interested in M:TG when it first came out but I quickly saw that it was a racket designed to force players to spend ridiculous amounts of money on pieces of cardboard because they needed the really good cards. However, I think that its background setting could be used for a cool RPG someday.

  2. There's a great amount of psychology at work with games like M:TG. There's nothing really forcing you to buy more cards. Yet, I keep hearing the words "addiction" or "M:TG is like crack-cocaine for gamers." I wonder if anybody has done a psychological study on Magic players.

    I have my theories, which I'll probably share in an upcoming post.

  3. I hated M:tG for the same reason I hated Warhammer: it was a rip off designed for Pay to Play style games. I spent less buying special equipment for my time on the fencing team (my HS had a fencing team) then some people spent on Warhammer and M:tG. And that is scary.

    It never killed my campaigns, but in college I ran into the same thing: I couldn't find anyone willing to play AD&D - MtG was the only option. It was sad.


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