I found a discussion earlier about Intro decks, and it got me to thinking back to a conversation I had with a few friends a while ago, to the relevance of Intro decks. This got me to thinking what other changes I would like to see, and all of these have been discussed with my friends to some length, and from what I can tell the general consensus seems to agree with what I have written here.
This post contains discussion on three main things that, in one way or another, I would like to see changed:
1) Intro Packs
2) Rules Inserts
I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback (I know, always a dangerous thing to say on the Internet) on the issues I discuss and see how many agree or disagree with me, and why.
First off I’d like to talk about Intro Decks. Their structure has undergone a few changes recently, but their essential functions remain the same; Pre-Constructed decks from each set primarily aimed at getting new players into the game and showing off new cards and mechanics
A few of years ago we had Theme decks, 60 card decks in small boxes. As a new player I remember looking back over Theme decks from sets that well pre-dated the time I started playing and thinking “oh cool, this deck shows off X really well! I could work with this”. Maybe its the simple fact that I am no longer a new player, but recent Intro decks just don’t seem to appeal to me in the same way.
Theme Decks were scrapped when Shards of Alara arrived, replaced by the functionally similar but significantly different Intro Packs. Now, players could pick up a 40 card deck plus a booster pack to get them started. A deck they could play with straight away, perhaps add a couple of cards from their booster pack (cards they could not use simply allowing them to get an idea of what the wider set was about), and develop the deck themselves as they discovered and collected more cards.
Evidently the idea of 40 card decks lacked a wide appeal, and with Magic 2011 the Intro Packs became 60 cards in size, whilst still retaining the booster.
The 40 card idea was not necessarily a new one, my first deck was 9th Edition’s World Aflame. This was great for me to pick up and learn to play and getting to grips with the game from scratch with a friend, but I quickly moved on. I guess the idea of having to buy so many boosters to evolve such a simple deck didn’t really appeal when I had no idea what to do with it. The positive here was, this deck was cheap, around £5, so I was happy to quickly shell out for a second deck costing a little bit more. New Intro Packs cost more than double this, so perhaps the addition of the booster and all the fancy packaging has a downside…
So, onto my main problem issues with the modern-style Intro Packs. Now as I’ve already said a lot of this is highly likely down to the fact that I’m no longer a new player and so I now look at these very differently.
My first problem is simple. Packaging. Yes, it looks much cooler than a small cardboard box (although an additional downside here is that it adds to the cost of the Pack), but the main problem comes when you buy one, open it up and.. you have nowhere to keep your shiny new cards!
Sure, recent Fat Packs have started to include deck boxes, which is a cool addition. But to a new player who is just starting the game, do they really want to be spending an extra £30 straight away just to get something to store their one and only deck in? The other option of course is to but a deck box made by other companies, but I feel that Wizards should feel obliged to at least give something to people who buy these Pre-Cons (and choose not to use sleeves). Deck boxes are supplied in Duel Decks and other similar products, so why do they not appear in Intro decks? The one place where logically they really should be (as opposed to Fat Packs, where you already have your card storage box). As an aside, I think Deckbuilder’s Toolkits are a fantastic idea, brilliant for any new-to-the-game player to pick up (and I encourage them to do so). If not in Intro decks, then could we get some Deck boxes here? Of course, having them in both would be even better.
My second deck was Shadowmoor’s Army of Entropy. And you know what, all of the cards in the deck were from.. Shadowmoor! I know, crazy right?? At least this may seem crazy to any newer player, since now a lot of the Block Pre-Cons, especially since the move to 60 cards (although as far as I’ve looked this has been cut down on more recently, and in Avacyn Restored significantly) contain cards from the most recent core set. This is all well and good when the cards fit the theme, but when the card is just a vanilla (no abilities) creature, is that really what a new player wants to see? Surely it would be better for all the cards in the decks designed to show off the new set to actually be from that set (or at least that block in the case of smaller sets). And if the block doesn’t contain a card that can reasonably replace the core set card, then why is the core card there in the first place? Does it even fit in with the theme of the deck or block? If not, why include it? If so, why does the block itself not contain a functionally similar card?
Now, a counter-argument here is that these cards allow new players to identify weak cards, and improve their deck themselves. This is fine, but I was able to do this with Army of Entropy, eventually developing it into 2 whole separate decks! I think new players would benefit from cooler and more relevant cards than simply ones they can almost instantly identify as “worse” than others. On top of this, most new players have probably been introduced to the game through a friend, meaning they have already seen the game and learned the basics. Surely to draw them in further you want to excite, rather than bore.
One final thing is the sheer quantity of decks. 1 new Core set and 1 new Block each year provides us with a whopping 20 new Intro Packs every 12 months. I don’t know exactly how fast magic is growing, but I imagine that many of these decks become irrelevant really quickly. Whilst the Intro decks do continue to showcase the themes of each set very well, the fact that all these decks are aimed so specifically at just new players is quite alienating for the rest of us. This surely seems like a poor strategy, to produce such a massive product each year aimed at a relatively narrow audience. On a positive note, Magic is definitely a game designed with the idea of retaining its new players as opposed to the idea of getting people to spend as much money as fast as possible, and then stop caring when it comes to continued support. I won’t name the company, but unfortunately this is something I have encountered before and I commend Wizards for their fantastic work in keeping everybody happy.
For those of us who are more advanced, we now have Event decks. These are Pre-Cons aimed at people on borderline competitive level for Standard format, perhaps those just looking to try out Friday Night Magic (FNM) or play the format for the first time. With the recent pushes to encourage FNM attendance these are a great idea. I do wonder if we might soon see Event Decks for the Modern format (or, if we’re lucky, perhaps even Legacy). Back to the main issue, with new event decks appearing with each set, thats another 8 decks per year. 8 decks, again aimed at a rather narrow audience.
As far as I’m able to tell, anyone who doesn’t fall into one of the “new player” (Intro Packs) or “New to FNM player” (Event Decks) categories, only buy these packs/decks to get their hands on one or two specific cards, or for a certain foil rare, or a playset of cards they don’t have for their current Standard deck; with the rest of the deck being readily discarded. I suppose this is all well and good, unless the single reason for most people buying the deck gets banned from the format it was wanted for… *coughStoneforgeMysticcough*
What do I think could be done to improve this? Since Intro Packs do continue to appeal to new players I think a positive step would be to keep these for the year’s Core set, but return to something similar to the old-style Theme Decks as the Pre-Cons to accompany each of the sets within a Block. No booster, deck-in-a-box, and with all the cards being relevant and from the block itself. Perhaps drop to 4 Theme Decks per large set and 3 per expansion rather than forcing 5 new decks per set (which has led to some seeming to repeat ones from previous sets). With this, Event decks could remain essentially as they are, building on the more powerful strategies, continuing to include cards from a range of sets whilst keeping the “new decks per year” at a reasonable (lower than current) level.
Given how long my discussion on Pre-Cons turned out to be, the second item I’m discussing seems rather insignificant by comparison, but I feel it is just as important. Basic land, fine. Tokens, fine (I even collect these!) but rules tokens.. I know nobody who actually uses these for what they are (one friend has recently found a use, sellotaping them together to making play mats!).
I would like to see the removal of Rules cards from booster packs. This small inclusion is simply overlooked by almost every player, but thats really the main problem. Nobody cares for them. Imagine how many of these simply get thrown away each year. I do my best to hoover them up at FNM and other events, simply to ensure they are recycled. Recently I binned a pile of over 100! Those were all pieces of cards that could easily have been playable Commons, or even Tokens at the very least. If the rules tips must exist, perhaps even put them on the back of the occasional token instead of adverts? Most players would prefer to see something actually useful in their pack, even if it is just a token. Especially now we have Mythic-Rare tokens such as Planeswalker Emblems. It’s great for a new player to open a Tamiyo, the Moon Sage but when the Emblem is rarer than the card itself you have to question something.
The final thing I would like to discuss is Hexproof. This ability originally existed as the nicknamed “trollshroud” and is a strictly better version of the Shroud mechanic. Since Hexproof was introduced as a keyword, the decision has been made to remove Shroud from new cards completely and permanently (at least in the near future) replace it with Hexproof. I’ve seen a lot of voiced disapproval at this change, but somewhere there must surely be an almost-equal opinion in favour of the mechanic? If someone could show me where then I would really appreciate it. Admittedly, whilst thinking about writing this piece I started to consider whether Hexprof replacing shroud Shroud was really such a negative change.. and then at last Friday’s FNM I glanced over to the next table to see a Sigarda, Host of Herons enchanted by an Angelic Destiny. This instantly made me realise that my initial opinion was spot-on.
Looking into all of the Cards with Hexproof, around half of them have been printed since the mechanic was keyworded. Consider that this keywording happened less than a year ago, that means that half of the cards OF ALL TIME that have hexproof have been printed within the last year. This is slightly upsetting, since Trollshroud was once a very unique and special ability.
In addition to this increase in the appearance of the mechanic, no longer just reserved for specific cards, it has since been combined with a whole bunch of irritating cards that offer sheer unfairness (most notably Swords of X and Y). Had these newer creatures just had Shroud then the ability to remove them is just as restricted, but the ability to equip or enchant a creature with hexproof offers such an unfair board position that it tends to make games very un-fun; especially for the opponent but surely also less fun for the hexproof player too since there is much less of a challenge and game to be had?
I guess this is the first post I have made here on my blog that could really generate some heated discussion, so whilst I’d love to hear what other people think, please keep it constructive
Thanks for reading. Ed.