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Last week I wrote an evocative piece that examined motivations one may have to sell out of Magic completely, as a friend recently did. I hope people found the topic insightful. My editor suggested I consider the other side of the coin—what would be the reasons to stay engaged in playing Magic?
The question was timely because I hadn’t played a single game of digital Magic for the first ten weeks of 2023. Then I decided to fire up Arena and try my hand at Standard. I tweeted my results.
The devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other trope feels appropriate here. On one shoulder is the devil—tempting me to sell my collection to further invest in the college fund—and leave behind this often time-consuming and frustrating game.
On the other shoulder is the angel—my conscience—reminding me of the ways Magic has been healthy and rewarding for me over the years (or is it the other way around?). I already discussed the reasons to want to sell out and quit the game. This week I will provide five reasons why I prefer to stay engaged with the game of Magic: the Gathering.
Reason #5: Flexible Source of Fun
Magic can be time-consuming and expensive—in fact, I see many people in the community (especially on Twitter) venting about the high barrier of entry to the game. Formats like Legacy and Commander can be quite costly if one wishes to compete at a high level. Hours and hours of tireless practice are required to upskill and become a finely tuned player.
The amazing thing about Magic is that the game itself has no such expectations of you. If you want to play in high-stakes tournaments, you can certainly do that. If, on the other hand, you want to find piles of commons to play with a few friends, you can do that too! Thanks to the massive amount of reprints and supplemental products, you can even brew a halfway decent Commander deck for less than $20.
If you go the route of budget, casual play, there’s no expectation that you remain highly engaged with the game on a regular basis. You can play with your friends once a year—the cards will be just as effective and fun the next time you play. Sure, if you play at a public spot with new opponents you’ll have to learn what new cards do, but it’s not something you need to invest time in.
This kind of flexibility—the ability to engage with Magic whenever and however you’d like—is what keeps me in the game. I work full-time and have two kids (11 and 6 years old), so I have minimal time to commit to this hobby. Because I can hop on Arena for ten-minute bursts, I can keep up-to-date on Standard. Because I can buy and sell cards from my couch, I can remain engaged with the financial aspect of the game. Because I can follow and engage on Magic topics on social media, I can maintain interest and participation in the community.
I love that Magic affords this complete flexibility. You can enjoy golf by flying to Florida to play on a professional course or by playing putt-putt at a local miniature golf course. Magic offers even greater flexibility than this!
Reason #4: A Way to See the World
Should you be so inclined, Magic can provide an excuse to travel to locales far and wide. Now that large events are back, there are plenty of exciting reasons to travel somewhere to enjoy this game.
When I think back, I realize I have played Magic in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Nevada, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Kentucky, Indiana, and possibly even other states I’ve forgotten. Outside the United States, I’ve played Magic in Belgium, Germany, France, The Netherlands, and England. I even managed to play in a Legacy Grand Prix in Strasbourg, France, by far one of the coolest experiences. It seems like no matter where I travel around the globe, there are Magic players to engage with.
I’ll never forget the time I traveled to Kronberg, Germany for a business trip. I posted online that I was heading there, and another Magic player responded that he and a group of friends got together at a local university in Frankfurt on a weekly basis—he invited me to join, and I had the opportunity to do so! This spontaneous connection, with no bias or judgment whatsoever, was only possible because of Magic.
Whether the travel is for Magic specifically, or simply as a way to augment a trip already in progress, this game is a fantastic way of building bridges.
Reason #3: A Rare Hobby that Pays You Back
This reason is a significant one for me, personally. If you want to play golf on a regular basis, you need to invest in golf clubs, balls, and a bag, not to mention suffering the endless fees and costs associated with playing on well-manicured golf courses. It’s not easy to play golf cheaply (for example, is it worthwhile to take a club and a ball in your backyard to play with friends?). All that equipment adds up, and if you decide to change clubs there’s little chance you’ll get out the full amount that you put into them.
Not so with Magic. It’s one of a scant few hobbies that you can invest in, play for as long as you’d like, and potentially make money when you want to pivot or try something new!
Depending on how you engage with the game, there are varying degrees of potential here. As a collector of Old School cards, I find this to be a particularly attractive component to remaining involved with Magic. I don’t have to worry about selling cards quickly out of fear of a reprint or a shifting metagame. Minus a few exceptions (including the current Magic recession), holding onto Old School cards leads to financial gains given enough time. There is no motivation to hurry and cash out.
Of course, if your primary method of engagement with Magic is playing Standard and/or Limited, then you’re not as likely to turn the same level of profits, or else you’ll have to remain more actively engaged to sell out of cards before they rotate. Even still, many powerful cards will maintain at least some value for years.
You could argue that used golf clubs will always maintain some value as well. To that, I counter that it’s very easy to browse online shops (using Trader Tools, for example) to find top buyers of cards. Submit the buylist order, drop the cards in the mail, and have cash within days. This process likely isn’t quite so convenient for golf club selling, though I am sure a golf aficionado reading this will provide some counterpoint.
Reason #2: Sense of Community
I’ve alluded to this previously when I talked about traveling abroad and finding friendly Magic players. One thing I love about Magic—since I began playing in 1997—is that I felt a sense of belonging in a world where I was often classified as a misfit.
In middle and high school, I struggled to fit in. In college, I was better off because I went to a small engineering school filled with nerdy kids like myself. Even beyond college, I’ve had a difficult time making many new friends. I know I’m quirky, I’ve learned this about myself over the years.
The wonderful thing about Magic is that the game comes with a community of people who share a common interest. I could never drum up more than two friends as a kid, but nowadays I have over 3,000 Twitter followers who will interact with me about the game we all love. I often joke that I wish Twitter existed when I was in middle school because I would not have felt so much like an outcast because I would have had access to thousands of like-minded individuals.
This community has done so much for me over the years, up to and including enabling my career-long goal of leveraging Magic to fund my kids’ college educations! I could not have even dreamt up such an endeavor if it weren’t for the power of this community. Thank you all for your continued engagement (and if you’re not already, feel free to throw me a follow on Twitter)!
Reason #1: Lifelong Friendships
Community is very important—I love that this group of individuals exists where I feel comfortable being myself. At work, with family, and even with certain friends, I need to censor some of my eccentricities. With Magic folks, I can be 100% genuine to myself, and I don’t have to worry about judgment.
Imagine, then, the long-lasting, positive effect making friends through Magic has had on my life. In seventh grade, I started a brand new school in a new district. I knew no one. It was a struggle to fit in. Our financial situation was precarious at best, and this further isolated me from a community of mostly well-off kids who grew up with each other.
Then I learned about Magic. Shortly thereafter I made a couple of friends who also enjoyed the game. These two friends, Dan and Chris, are still great friends even to this day. Our connection started over a common interest in a game but turned into lifelong friendships. Even though we live in different states and are in different stages of life, I am confident we would still do anything to help each other out.
Outside of these two, I also made some strong bonds with Magic players by simply interacting with them regularly online. One such friend, who goes by pi in the community, was one who I met through the Quiet Speculation forum a decade ago. We developed a connection through frequent discussions in the forums, and it led to my visiting and staying with him in The Netherlands! Even though we’ve only met in person a couple of times, I cherish his friendship and know that I can always reach out to him if I need someone to talk to.
This, in my opinion, is the best reason to remain engaged with Magic. It helps me keep in touch with old friends, and will probably help me make new ones. These are the friendships that can last a lifetime.
Wrapping It Up
As tempting as it may be to sell out of Magic and free myself from its bonds, I don’t know if I can truly and completely go down that path. Ever. I’ve been involved with this game for 26 years now and I don’t even want to consider a world where I can’t enjoy its many benefits.
Whether it be the entertainment of the game, its lucrative nature, or the friendships and community it fosters, I’ll always want Magic to be at least a small component of my life. Even as I age and play much less often, I now have two children who may share an interest in the game; connection with my kids is yet another potential benefit to playing Magic. It truly is the gift that keeps giving.
I admire (and to an extent, envy) those who quit the rat race and escape the endless loop that is Magic. However in doing so, I wish them luck and I hope they can find another source of friends, community, money, and entertainment elsewhere as they did with Magic. Magic is one boon that will be difficult to find an adequate replacement.
One thought on “Counterpoint: Why I Still Play Magic”
As a game Magic is too complex and too challenging not to be absorbed by it. That’s as good as any other reason to play it. Or probably the main reason. A lot like chess the younger the player the more mentally sharp he is the better player he’ll be. I’m all for Magic being targeted for younger players. I too share the concern that Magic may end up becoming just another game. The Grand Prix was the type of event that would keep older players connected to the game. The pandemic has clearly shuffled things in a way that has made it difficult to bring all that back.