Re-discovering My Passion for Play

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At the beginning of 2022, I wrote an article detailing my top three MTG priorities for the year. As a refresher, these three priorities were:

  1. Take a Pause on Low End Beta Rares
  2. Stay Persistent Shopping for the Small Stuff
  3. Increase Play Time (A Little Bit)

The first quarter of the year is nearly over (already!) and I’m proud to share that I’ve made progress across all three of these priorities. In fact, they are all somewhat related and have resulted in a shift in my focus for acquisitions and selling to change the balance of my collection. Let me explain…

A Fateful Email

Almost a month after this article was published, I received an email in response to one I had sent back in July 2019—a Magic player I met on Twitter was following up on my declared intention to play more Magic in 2022. They asked if I wanted to hop on a webcam to battle some Old School or Alpha 40. Through additional communications, we coordinated a time and had a blast playing our pet Old School decks.

The result: inspiration! I had forgotten how inspiring it can be to actually play this game. It’s one thing to speculate on cards, collect a few different pieces out of appreciation for their art, and hold a modest collection as a potential long-term investment. It’s a whole ‘nother ballgame to shuffle up a deck I built and experience the joys of casting spells. My passion for this game (albeit a version of the game that existed in 1993 & 1994) has been rekindled.

As a result, I have made great progress on my third priority above: increasing play time. What’s more, the increase in play has motivated me to make some changes to my decks, pick up a few strategic cards, and sell a few others to fund new acquisitions. The turnover in my collection is refreshing, and helps me progress on my top two priorities.

Before I get into those details, I wanted to mention one other step I’ve taken to increase my play time: Magic Arena. I committed to drafting on Arena again once the latest set was released. When Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty came out, I delivered on this self-made promise. Since then I’ve done around ten drafts of the set with varying degrees of success. For those curious, below are images of the two decks with which I’ve earned trophies thus far (disclaimer: I achieved these trophies on the bronze and silver ladder... I have yet to earn a trophy in gold or platinum).

Despite the challenges I’ve faced drafting the most complicated set of all time—at least based on amount of rules text—I have thoroughly enjoyed Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, and hope to jam another dozen or so drafts before the next set. Fortunately, I saved up plenty of gold and gems in 2020 and sat on them for the duration of 2021 so I have ample resources on that front.

Standard, on the other hand, has been miserable. I face the same couple obnoxious decks over and over again, and the fun mono-White build I’ve been messing around with is completely out of its league. Since when was the bronze tier of Standard so competitive and repetitive? For the time being, I’m going to stick to constructed formats where Black Lotus is legal.

Recent Collection Shifts

I’ve checked the box on my third MTG priority for 2022 by increasing the amount I play. This action has directly fed into helping me achieve my first two priorities.

When I shuffled up my Old School deck and played Magic again, it unlocked the deck brewing kid inside of me. After learning more about the Alpha 40 format I wanted to experience it for myself. However, Alpha cards are not exactly budget friendly—nice condition Alpha Islands are about $100 a pop now, for example.

Luckily for me, there’s a cheaper alternative: Beta. Granted, Beta cards are far from cheap. But, with a few printing exceptions, as long as I don’t include Circle of Protection: Black and Volcanic Island (both of which did not exist in Alpha), then I could adhere to the same rules and deck building limitations with Beta cards as Alpha. What’s more, now that I made a friend who is also into this format, I have a chance to play games with any new deck I can build.

This was enough inspiration for me! I immediately got to work, taking apart the mono-black discard deck I had sitting on the shelf to craft an all-Beta 40 card deck. How did this help me accomplish my other two goals for 2022? Well for one, since I was building an actual deck, I knew I needed to pick up solid Beta cards that would have an actual impact on a game. This means cards like Purelace and Acid Web Spider were out—less purchasing of garbage Beta rares? Check!

I also had to raise funds for these purchases, so I sold a bunch of stuff out of the now disassembled Old School deck to create this new Beta deck. While the cards I sold here weren’t exactly low-end and useless, they were lower priority (not to mention redundant in my collection). And while I only sold one low-end Beta rare (a Pirate Ship specifically), building a new deck means I actively seek out playable, mid-tier Beta cards for my deck. So instead of my want list consisting of any Beta rare under $100, I instead have been focusing on cards I’ll actually shuffle up, which tend to be more expensive and have higher demand in general.

The best part: I’ve been able to sleeve up some Beta rares that have sat idle in my trade binder for years! Ashiok, Nightmare Muse, Lord of the Pit, and Clockwork Beast can all come off the bench—they didn’t fit into my strategy before, but in an all Alpha/Beta format, they’re quite strong.

New Acquisitions

This brings me to how I am accomplishing priority number two for 2022: acquiring more low-end Old School cards. When I first wrote the article in early January, I was thinking of picking up more inexpensive Legends, Arabian Nights, The Dark, and Antiquities cards to fill out my collection. Granted, I have picked up a few as planned. My favorites include Infernal Medusa, Crumbling Necropolis, and Exorcist. But I have also redefined my priority with “low end” cards since getting back into deck building again.

Namely, I’m excited to pick up some cheaper Beta commons and uncommons that may be playable in evening webcam battles with my new friend. When I filled out my mono black Beta deck, I recognized a need for some low-end removal. Therefore, I picked up some Paralyzes. I also bought a Drudge Skeletons for their utility in the format. While I haven’t tested it yet, I’ve also been picking up cheap Scathe Zombies to eventually test with Zombie Master. And of course I needed more Beta Leechridden Swamps.

In this way, I’m still picking up low-end cards for the collection—these cards are all under $15 and some as low as $5-$7. But once again, instead of just picking up cards that will sit in a binder on a shelf, I’m actually seeking out cards that I will potentially play. The print run of Beta commons is on par with some commons in Arabian Nights and Antiquities and uncommons in Legends, so from a collectability standpoint these also help me accomplish my 2022 goal. But instead of picking up random stuff, I’m now deliberate in what I acquire. Less clutter is a good thing!

Wrapping It Up

The impact of actually playing Magic is so profound, it continues to surprise me. In a way, I’m reminded of what it used to feel like playing Magic 25 years ago. By enforcing a budget on my buying, I’m also constrained to what I can afford, just like back in 1997, making the endeavor more challenging (and therefore more rewarding).

As a result, I’ve rediscovered a passion for this game. While I don’t think drafting Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty on Arena will motivate me to buy new paper cards anytime soon, I have definitely rekindled my drive to brew fun Old School style decks to play with friends. Having a new friend in particular who has that same flair for brewing and playing fun cards (i.e. not always playing to win) motivates me even further to reengage with his hobby.

With this newfound joy, you can bet I’ll be staying actively engaged with Magic for the foreseeable future. If 2021 was the year of chess and breaks from Magic, then 2022 is the year of rediscovery of the game. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even be motivated to attend a large in-person event sometime this year. If playing on a webcam reinvigorates me, then playing at a large event and seeing 100’s of eager players may take me even further toward my childhood appreciation for this incredible game. To do so would be complete and utter success for 2022.

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