Fix the game

In recent times Wizards and Konami have had various levels of decision making that has only left me with a perpetual raised eyebrow. I keep asking myself who is in charge and what kind of atmosphere must be in that specific office where they say : “Yes. We’ll put this on the market. What can go wrong?…Testing? What do you mean with testing? They’ll buy it anyway. Who cares about testing. Testing. LOL”. I might be overexaggerating on that part. It could be that there are a few people like that in the ranks of either of the abovementioned companies but I doubt that they have the final word (or at least I hope they don’t…). Regardless of my hopes for better quality games, I wanted to write today about what I think is going wrong with both Magic the Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh! and how can both games improve, perhaps considerably, the way they approach their customer base.

Magic the Gathering

We’ve all seen the number of products being released at lightning speed nowadays. Box after box, Secret Lair after Secret Lair. It’s gotten to the point where I think it’s bad for the game. There simply is too much to choose from. Why is that bad? It’s a downhill trend because the game is slipping more and more out of focus, while the products themselves are getting into the spotlight. Everything is shiny now or has extended art(s), comes in various boxes, in various forms and of course in various price ranges (usually higher ones). This is not bad per se as MTG has generally been very good at keeping the game playable without having the need to fork out absurd amounts of money (bar legacy and vintage). What the end result of this shift into cosmetics feels more and more like a MOBA game. I have read multiple times online when a new skin for a champion was announced the clear disdain of players in the form of: “fix the servers”, “balance the game”, “why more skins?”, etc. There are several departments in a business and it’s not the same people who work on skins who work on balancing the game. Most people think that the time a company spends on cosmetic development is not spent on game balance. That’s just wrong.

In our scenario Wizards is starting to go the way of personalized products because they simply sell. Newer artworks from Secret Lair are an attention grabber and also set aside a lot of people with their specific decks. Cats, Goblins, Oozes, etc. are fun to have as tribal decks for commander and pimping them is a great way to differentiate yourself from other players. Great stuff. Well, horrible stuff really. I love foils. What I don’t love is a million foil variants of the same card. It’s just too tacky. I don’t feel like the personalization part that costs me 30€ per card is worth it in the end, but that’s a personal perspective that I have. I’m sure a lot of people are happy with the new found variety of artworks. I happen to think it’s just a low level money-grabbing tactic and I don’t feel like this one specific foil is a status symbol amongst my group of nerds that I play with regularly. I could also be wrong…

Speaking of Commander…This year is dubbed as the Year of Commander by Wizards. Most of you know I am not a fan of the multiplayer format because it lacks the competitive spirit in my opinion. I don’t want to play vs 3 people at the same time because there are too many variables and I don’t want to only play a combo deck in order to win. 1v1 Commander? Perfect! Great stuff. Already built one deck, I will most likely build more. Where I have some beef with Commander is that it’s pushing a lot of people out of having good cards. Prices are growing fast, some even exponentially and few players can keep up with this trend. I can’t imagine wanting to play blue black in Commander for fear of having to buy a swath of high priced cards. One of the most notable cards that I think has arrived at a laughably high threshold is Sensei’s Divining Top. When this card was legal in Legacy it was floating between 5-10€. Every deck could play it, but not all of them did. It was just a solid card for everyone if you wanted to filter your deck. Normally when a card is played in multiple formats it tends to be expensive. Top got banned in Legacy a few years back and to everyone’s amazement I would assume, it is now at at least 20€ in a terrible condition or 30€ if you want it in Near Mint. That. Is. Absurd. Expect Top to go higher in price once people realize it wasn’t reprinted in Double Masters. Only a matter of time…

Commander is driving prices through the roof and making the game unafordable for many who want to “jump in and enjoy a causal game or two”. The option still exists to buy a precon deck and play, but you just feel outclassed, underpowered and simply bored out of your mind because your cards are leaps and bounds behind what other enfranchised players have in their arsenals. Again, this is how I perceive things and it can very well be that I am wrong. However, I do want to give you other examples of cards that have simply exploded in price in recent months: Cabal Coffers, Cyclonic Rift, Rhystic Study, Enlightened Tutor, Sylvan Library, Vampiric Tutor, Mirari’s Wake, Pact of Negation, etc. I can put a ton more but I don’t want to fill this blog entry only with overpriced cards. Yes, they are severely overpriced. Most cards where corner case cards for various decks, but now Wizards has unlocked the Konami mode, which I will talk about in the YGO section, on how to monetize these “outcast” cards.

While Konami has a different tactic when it comes to printing new cards, Wizards is not far off but it is a bit better regulated. What Wizards does differently then Konami is that they print enablers for older cards that transform a once mediocre card into a massive powerhouse. A good example is the printing of Wilderness Reclamation. It’s an inexpensive card for sure, but it’s far from innocent. It’s actually downright degenerate as clearly shown in the last Online Championship. This effect existed in the form of Prophet of Kruphix, but now it’s back again albeit in a watered down version. This type of tactic employed by Wizards, who are by the way notorious for not acknowledging the secondary single card market, is just a bitch move in all honesty. What printing cards like Wilderness Reclamation does is push players into having to get the “other part of the card” that makes them be broken together. Why is this bad? It isn’t in its original true form of playing MtG. In its financial form: it’s a nightmare. You keep having these cards that could do a lot but only if they are followed up by some hilariously expensive cards. To put things in perspective: you can buy one Sensei’s Divining top in Near Mint or put 5€ more and get a full precon deck. Balanced.

How do you fix this situation? It’s clear that things will become worse if we maintain the status quo. The solution is simple: print more Mystery Booster style editions. Gut the prices of expensive cards. Follow the secondary market and crush the prices if they go too high up by reprinting the right cards thus allowing more players to get into this extremely beautiful, complex and rewarding game. Consistently gatekeeping new Commander players from playing the game at its full extent is a way to make more money for sure, but it defeats the purpose that Richard Garfield intended for the game: to be affordable. You might say “but this will ruin my collection of expensive cards”. Yes. Yours and mine too, but not as much as you think. There will always be more demand than offers for Magic cards unless Wizards reprints in the style of Konami. That won’t happen. The marketing plans are different for both companies and the sales sector is well established by now for each of them. What we, the people with big collections, would lose in the short term we would gain in the long term: a bigger community overall, more competition, more innovation, more everything really. The downsides to reprinting staples are low and for Wizards they are almost nonexistent. Two cards I do have to put up as a shining examples of what a world with reprints would look like: Noble Hierarch and Goblin Guide. The Hierarch is still maintaining a healthy 14€ average after suffering multiple prints while the Goblin will start it’s way back up to 5€ and above in a few weeks. Last time Goblin Guide was printed it reached the same lows as now and it went straight back up to it’s 10-13€ mark in a few months.

That’s a dream scenario though. More reprints? I don’t think so, but who knows…We can all hope. What is far more likely to happen is a new format for commander coming in. You might remember Brawl. This was an attempt. You can see that it was just an attempt because they didn’t really go hard on the marketing for it. They released some decks, some new cool cards, but they didn’t blow it out of proportion. It was a “let’s see what happens” type of product release. I expect that Wizards will do a Pioneer-style commander format in the upcoming future. This would technically solve some issues. Do you want to play super duper mega cool cards? Play “Legacy” Commander, but be prepared to pay up for the strong cards. Do you want to play the “I just started the game” Commander? Get a precon and enjoy. It’s a win-win situation. Nobody loses value from staples they accrued, a new format is born to ease in new players and Wizards still ignores the secondary market. All would be right with the world.

Yu-Gi-Oh!

This game fascinates me for a few reasons. Nostalgia is one of the main components that make me, and probably many others, go back to this game. Ever noticed how every few months or half a year there’s a new Yugi box or Kaiba collection or booster named after him? It’s a constant reminder of why you started this game in the first place. No matter how far along you are with your decks, if you play competitively or not, you’ll remember the words “Let’s D-D-D-D-Duel!” Right? 😊 It’s a warm, fuzzy feeling because a lot of players I know started with basic decks when tribute summoning was a big achievement and you would not end the game in two turns.

YGO has become a fast combo game that tries to create lock situations for the opponent or one-turn-kills for yourself. It’s a hard case of “do you have the answer or not?”. I personally dislike this because it makes the games very one-sided. If you do have the answer you’ll most likely win. If you don’t, you’ll lose. It shouldn’t be that straightforward. Yes, there are games where it takes a lot longer to win, but they generally happen between non-meta decks. Top tier decks want to be overwhelmingly powerful. The goal is to simply overpower your opponent as much and as best you can. This is the reason this game is a financial black hole.

Unlike MtG where cards from the first editions (Alpha and Beta) are eye-popping expensive, YGO’s first editions barely get above the 30€ mark. The concept is that you want to get the new cards because they are stronger. The term most people use is power creep. I would say it’s power leap. Creep would mean that it’s slow and you don’t really feel it until it happens. Something creeping up on you doesn’t just appear all of a sudden. It takes time to get there. Konami isn’t even bothering with the creep part. They just put out a new card that eclipses the older ones in a matter of seconds.

I am unsure when exactly this started, but once the precedent was set there was no turning back. The game was no longer able to balance itself. Every new edition brought a clear winner to the forefront while other decks suffered more and more because of the aggressive bannings and lack of power compared to the new cards. This made people want to get the new set because that’s where the strongest cards were. Konami makes money, prints stronger cards, people buy them, repeat. This is one of the most concerning points when considering buying cards for YGO for myself.

I recently decided to buy a new deck. I wanted to get something decently strong, but not oppressive. Something that’s fun, but can also compete with top tier decks where I would win maybe 1 game and the opponent 3. I am ok with that. I wanted to build Toons (I just mentioned nostalgia right?😂) because a long time ago I thought Pegasus was such a boss 😎 I liked the character a lot and the name of his company, Industrial Illusions, was really great. I saw a list and just was astounded by how much the deck costs. About 800€. Eight-hundred euros. That’s a lot if you ask me for a game that is supposed to be targeting kids of ages 6 and above.

The deck itself does cost a bit, but not even close enough to how much the extra deck is trying to squeeze from my bank account. The main reason why I am not buying it is that I am simply paranoid that some cards will either get banned or limited and I will lose a lot of money in the process. “But aren’t you building the deck for fun? Don’t you want to just enjoy the game?”. I am doing just that with my Darklord deck thank you. It’s a fun deck, I enjoy it a lot and I don’t have to buy the equivalent of a mtg modern deck to get there. 800€ is a steep ask for most YGO players. You can gradually increase your collection of cards but you’re permanently at the mercy of the bannings. This game reminds me a lot of those get rich fast schemes. They never work out really, but a lot of people believe in them regardless.

I don’t really want to start talking about how much meta decks costs right now because there’s no use really. What I can say though is that this exact deck that I want to buy will cost half or less in half a year or so. The big plus that Konami has over Wizards is that its reprinting policy is extreme. Konami reprints cards all the time. If a card is going to end up being a staple, you can be 100% sure that it will get reprinted in the time span of a year. It’s just how it works for them. The initial printing of the card gets the hardcore dudes to buy it. The reprint gets the dudes who didn’t have the money to buy the first print but now can do it because it’s cheaper. The 3rd and other subsequent printings will just make the card extremely affordable for everyone. The time span for this to happen is about one to two years. But it will happen. That is an encouraging thought.

What Yu-Gi-Oh! desperately needs is a new format that can slow the game down. Leave Advanced be. It’s a fan-favorite format and it’s well established. Don’t change anything about it. Make it the Legacy of YGO. Create a sort of Modern or Pioneer variant though where you can only play, let’s say, cards from the past 5 years and ban the absolute powerhouses, otherwise hello selling your kidney on the black market for a playset of Eldlich the Golden Lord (currently at about 100€ per piece). Konami needs to grab the attention of other players slowly by creating a more easily accessible format for new players. It simply costs way too much to get into YGO right now. The best choice would be to create a limited-style format just like MtG has. Every time I ask people who buy Booster Boxes from me what they do with the cards I get the “I throw 90% of them away”. It really shouldn’t be like that, but I don’t think there is a set that Konami produces keeping in mind the Sealed aspect of the game. It truly is sad.

I recently was talking to a good friend of mine about what would be one of the best changes that could fix a few things about YGO. The main point was changing some of the generic extra deck monsters, which are the main financial offenders, to having more restrictive summoning costs. Let’s say Apollousa, Bow of the Goddess which has a “2+ monsters with different names, except Tokens” smmoning requirement. This card was at its peak at 80+€ per copy. It got reprinted now in the new tins and will also be reprinted in the upcoming gold set (Konami doesn’t joke around when they bury a card’s price tag😆). If the card would read “2+ LIGHT monsters with different names, except Tokens” or any other attribute, it would simply be pretty balanced.

YGO is a game that thrives on having thematic play. You will most often hear that the top tier decks are comprised of a theme or two, for example: Salamangreat, SPYRAL, Invoked Shaddoll, True King Dino, etc. The game rewards you for playing a theme and it’s one of the main reasons why it’s successful. When you can play your favorite cards of course you’ll be a happy panda. This concept should be expanded to all of these generic extra deck monsters that just crush people’s hopes when it comes to building a strong deck. By making them each have a specific summoning requirement, the cards will get cheaper, yet stay relevant in their intended decks. People would still buy them if the deck turns out to be great or not just because it would thematically fit. If you choose to play a deck that can not support a specific monster, but another with different but also great abilities, then you’re also going to pay up as well, which is ultimately what Konami wants. There are a bunch of ways this game could get better if only someone would care enough to make it so. I truly hope that that time will come soon as I am sure a lot of players do as well.

Schedule change announcement

Now that I am finished with my surgery and my recovery time is almost over I would want to get back into several activities that I left behind in part due to the coronavirus situation and also out of lack of free time. Most of you know that on days when there is a booster draft I work about 9 to 10 hours, maybe more if it’s a busy night. After carefully considering how my store operates, I have come to the conclusion that I can change the schedule for 3 days of the week without affecting anything important. From 01.09.2020 the new schedule will be as follows:

Tuesday – Thursday: 14:00 – 20:00 (longer if booster draft happens)
Friday: 12:00 – 20:00 (longer if FNM happens)
Saturday: 12:00 – 19:00

It’s imperative to me that I get more time to work on my side projects, other passions and also enjoy more free time to be able to keep in contact with my friends and family. The change isn’t dramatic for most of you since tournaments usually start at either 16:00 for YGO or 18:00 for MTG. I will keep Friday and Saturday as they are simply because it’s the days when most of you have more free time and can come to the store to play and also align with Prereleases and such. I think the new opening times won’t affect the store in a bad way. Let’s see how everything works out though and tell me what you think about any of the above opinions that I just wrote. Let’s discuss here, in our Whatsapp groups or at the store 😊

See you in the Arena!