Getting Disillusioned – What Magic Is Missing

This one will be a little off the rails. A couple weeks ago, I highlighted an opportunity I saw for Wizards to do something risky but with the potential to change Modern forever. The feedback I received was… voluminous, and well appreciated, even though most everyone disagreed with me. Regardless, I learned something through the process, or at least I think I did, which brings us to my article today. I’ve noticed, as you probably have too, a general level of stagnation when it comes to the Modern discourse, on this site and others. I remember fondly a time around a year ago when Eldrazi played two Sol Rings, every article I wrote generated comments galore, and anonymous individuals from across the globe could shout whatever they pleased at me with no fear of repercussions. It truly was the wild west.

Times have changed. I’m over two years into my position as content writer here at Nexus, and while I love having a platform to talk about whatever I want week after week, I’ve found myself growing tired. Sunday nights, scrolling through tournament results, wondering what I’m going to write about this week. I’ve grown… less interested, and judging by your engagement, less interesting. I still love writing, and I enjoy the feedback I do receive, but I can’t help but reminisce on the glory days, when my words had more impact, generated emotion, stirred controversy. It’s this memory that led me to branch out a few weeks ago, in search of a topic that could be called fresh. It’s this memory that leads me to my topic today.

Part 1: Another Lover

I have a confession to make. I’ve been seeing someone on the side. It’s not you, it’s me. When I said I had been testing Grixis Death’s Shadow, what I was really doing was playing some Star Wars: Destiny on the side. I can explain. Grixis is great, but things have just gotten so routine between us. Matches are predictable; the fire is gone. I just don’t feel the energy anymore, you know? Star Wars: Destiny, on the other hand, it’s dangerous. I feel like I get it, and it gets me. There’s violence in it, it’s real. I can’t explain it; when I play it, I just feel so alive. And I think I can fly.

Magic players are notorious for playing one game. Magic: The Gathering is a jealous lover—it requires all of your time, doesn’t like it when you talk to others, watches you when you think it isn’t looking. I know; I’ve been there, and it wasn’t healthy. It’s because I know this that I can feel you getting uncomfortable as I’m sitting here, talking about another option. But there is life outside of Magic, whether you want to admit it or not.

Star Wars: Destiny, like any individual on the side, has its flaws. It’s goldfishy and non-interactive at times, and downright broken at others. For all of that, though, the game has identity. Every deck feels unique, as every deck is unique, thanks to character pairings that change how each archetype plays and feels. Playing Poe Dameron and Maz Kanata feels like your playing a different game compared to Darth Vader and Royal Guard. Emperor Palpatine and Bala-Tik/Tie Pilot/Stormtrooper/Stormtrooper are both villain decks, but they couldn’t be less alike. Each deck is 30 cards, and you see all 30 cards just about every game. Players are allowed up to two copies of any card, and the tuning… it’s incredible. I know it hurts to hear me say this to you, but I’m telling you. It’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced.

I know Star Wars: Destiny is bad for me. Fantasy Flight Games’s Organized Play is, for the most part, nonexistent, and the title of World Champion means nothing, and is worth even less. High-level tournament prizes reward players with trophies and playmats. “Cash” is a dirty word, not even whispered in secret. But the games, man. 48 different characters after two sets, with more on the way. Infinite possibilities; creativity to satisfy all desires. It’s bad for me, but I just can’t stop. I’ve considered drastic changes. Quitting Magic. Devoting myself to a non-existent, unreliable tournament circuit. Writing strategy articles (wait, I actually am doing that one). It has me in its clutches, and I don’t know why.

Part 2: What She Has That You Don’t

Actually, I do know why. I’m telling you all of this, confessing my sins to you, because I’ve looked deep down inside myself, found something that scared me, and am baring it all. Magic: The Gathering has lost my interest recently, and Star Wars: Destiny has enticed me, because while deep down I know that Magic: The Gathering is right for me, I just can’t help but imagine life differently. See, Magic: The Gathering is reliable. I know what I’m getting when I lock myself down; I know what time she’ll be home at night. The games are fun, but I’m imagining our future and it feels the same. I’ve been playing for six years, but it feels like sixty.

Part of this comes from best-of-three matches. I’m not advocating for Magic to remove this feature, as the game probably wouldn’t survive. It’s just… winning doesn’t really feel like winning. Take down game one, and you don’t feel “happiness” or “victory.” I feel relief most of the time—relief as I dodged the game-one loss and avoided the feeling of dread that comes with having to claw back two victories to take the match. Games of Magic often feel like work, but the work I’m doing is minesweeping explosives out of a desert of cancer. Every step is a wince as my life flashes before my eyes. Phew, avoided the mull to five. Phew, avoided the nut draw. Phew, avoided the mana screw. Phew, avoided the unwinnable matchup. Phew, actually saw my sideboard card! Magic is addicting, because it delivers its drug in continuous drips. The constant drip of relief as disaster is dodged.

See, I bought into a lie. Red decks feel different then green decks! Black decks feel evil, while white decks feel heroic! This might be true in Limited, to an extent, but we don’t really experience Magic this way ever, especially in Modern. Affinity decks are fast, Jund decks are grindy, Living End is crazy. That’s true on a macro level, but in-game things feel similar. Hope you get a good mix of lands and spells, hope the top of your deck delivers, hope your opponent doesn’t run you over. Decisions are fairly straightforward, and there are maybe a handful of things you can do to influence a match one way or another.

It’s hard to communicate this to you without you actually playing the game, but Star Wars: Destiny just feels different. It’s powerful, in a way that Magic aspires to be. You draw five cards a turn if you want. The decisions are literally endless. There is no tether to lands to play things; you gain set resources each turn, and can gain extras through cards and dice rolls. The dice rolls, which made me skeptical at first, provide that variance that Magic does, without the crazy highs and lows that accompany it. Even though the game in its current state is actually kind of broken, you can still win with anything. That’s something that is hard to explain, even though I’ve been in the middle of it for weeks now.

Part 3: The Point

This isn’t an article about getting you to dump Magic and play Destiny. This article, these 1250 words I’ve written up to this point, are my way of voicing what I’ve been feeling for a long time; Magic, for all its charms, isn’t perfect, and it’s missing things. Infect, that old archetype that once existed, had a palpable identity. Splinter Twin brought fear to the table. Dredge carried with it a certain feeling of doom. Magic’s game design is perfect, I know that now. But the cost of perfection is soul. Given enough time, Modern has turned from a format that could claim unique experiences to a grind-fest of value and percentages. Elves used to feel so on the edge. They knew they were playing garbage cards, and you knew it too. The goal for them was to be as fast as possible, and for us to stop them at all costs. Now, there’s the primary game, and the Collected Company value subgame. Eldrazi used to feel broken (well, it was broken, but it felt broken too). Now it’s just gigantic things packed with game text after another until you collapse. Control used to feel unique; ugly and slow and plodding and hopeless, but nevertheless, unique. Now it feels like Jund with a different skin on it. The well has been poisoned.

I’m not sure what can be done. The rules shouldn’t change, but Magic is missing that pull, that allure of a unique experience that keeps me coming back. The system is perfect, as it always was. But I need something more than perfection. This is what draws me to shake-up bans. This is what has me smiling at the thought of broken things like Treasure Cruise getting printed. I feel, deep down, that at this point it’s difficult to create something unique and fresh from the vast number of cards already printed without breaking the game wide open. I know I’m in the minority, and Magic is growing, but I find myself growing away from it. I still love it, I know we are right for each other, but my eye is wandering. I don’t plan on leaving, but I feel guilty for thinking about it.

Thanks for reading,

Trevor Holmes

Trevor started playing Magic in 2011. He plays primarily online and studies Architecture at UNCC. Recent paper Magic accomplishments include a 2015 Regional PTQ win qualifying for Pro Tour: Magic Origins and a Day Two performance at GP Charlotte. He also streams weekdays at twitch.tv/Architect_Gaming! Follow him at twitter.com/7he4rchitect and architectgaming.wordpress.com!

26 thoughts on “Getting Disillusioned – What Magic Is Missing

  1. I usually enjoy your articles, Trevor, but this one was awful. It’s just “but the good old days!” faux-nostalgia, mixed with “every deck feels the same!”, which to me feels like complaining. There were no perspectives, no suggestions on how to change the feeling, not even a tacit admission that you’re burned out on Magic (or on writing about Magic) and that’s why it all feels so blah to you. I get that you have to produce content on a deadline, but this was not an enjoyable read.

    1. Hey Roland,

      Sorry you didn’t like this one, I decided to do something a little different, less analytical and definitely more opinionated. I wanted this one to have a ‘feel’ to it, and I think in doing so it comes off very polarizing depending on whether the reader agrees with me or not.

      It has a perspective, its my own. I could have written about how to change my feelings towards Modern, and I did so a little bit in the conclusion. I’m definitely not burned out on writing about Magic, I just wanted to share a unique perspective on some of the things in the back of my mind that I consider ‘flaws’ or at least ‘shortcomings’ in this great game.

      Thanks,
      Trevor

    1. Star Wars is great! I know there’s nothing wrong with playing another game, I just know from my experience that most Magic players either don’t (or won’t) devote time to other games. I feel that the jealous lover analogy is apt. I’m not really considering taking a break from MTG, I love the game. Just had some introspection about it and wanted to share. 🙂

      Thanks,
      Trevor

    1. Also (see, I split my comment into two for the statistics), I tend to more and more consume magic content through podcasts. I don’t have time nor energy to read a long article after a long day at work, while listening to a cast I can do on my way to and from work. So maybe it is about the vehicle rather than the subject/content?

      1. It’s funny, I am eager to read an article, but Magic podcasts sound like just so much talk radio to me. If an article has video, I just keep scrolling until I find a text only article that I can take my time to think about.

        As for you Trevor, I don’t usually post replies, but this article seemed to ask for them. I know you have probably made commitments to Modern Nexus, and they’ll have to scramble if you pull out of the rotation. Make no mistake, you will be missed, not just by your Nexus colleagues, but also by hordes of we Zombies, who suck up the life force you put into your articles without returning any energy to the process (besides our click count). I agree with Benjamin Alan Mohr ( but not with Guilherme Goveia or Roland F. Rivera Santiago) that you probably need to find new experiences that recharge and revitalize you. Providing content regularly is a heavy lift. I think that you do it well and am grateful that you have done it for so long. But it’s time for you to sell the farm, take your floozey to some tropical paradise, and see how long you can keep her. If (when?) you come back, you will have new stories and new insights to share. Your perspective will be wider, and deeper, and we’ll kill the fatted calf to celebrate. Or maybe you will just find yourself merging into the Zombie horde, crowding around the Mages who light the multiverse with their magic, that’s not a bad life (death??) either.

        1. Hey David,

          Thanks for the comment, I appreciated all the imagery. 🙂

          I will admit that writing can be a grind sometimes, but I love it and don’t see myself moving on anytime soon. This topic came off as a little gloomy, which I knew would happen but couldn’t really avoid. I don’t dislike the game and I’m not bored with it, I have just been thinking about my experiences with Magic recently and had some thoughts I wanted to share. Thanks for reading!

          Trevor

    1. Thanks Devid! I had a feeling this article would be pretty polarizing, I knew I’d be speaking primarily to an audience that feels strongly about the game (otherwise why would they be reading articles), but in talking to some friends I knew this feeling is one most of us have felt at some point or another.

      Trevor

  2. This article sounds like an excerpt of James Hsu’s “Magic, the Addiction”. Especially the Star Wars card game experience. I know am not in the spot to judge as I do know nothing about this Star Wars game, but I am sure you will come back to Magic any time in the future. Magic is an old lady while “younger” games are like the attraction and excitement of meeting somewone new. Having an affair with someone new is ‘ok’ and from time to time maybe even necessary to experience the true love once again. That said, I think in the long term run the old lady with all her past stories, experiences and depths will always be the one and only.
    Well, maybe this metaphor got a little too pathetic but I think you know what I mean 😀

  3. I hear you. At times I get bored as well. That is often what we called burn out. Especially as a content writer, sometime there are only so much we can analyse and write about. When not playing modern, I go into EDH, legacy and standard to bring my spark back. I also coordinate board game group for my church. I think it is important that life not just circling around magic, but rather friends. That is why it is the gathering. The thrill, spark or excitement might wear off, but friendship remains. Spurring each other, encouraging each other along that way to the illusional world champion goal or simply just having the time of your life laughing over silly mistake, silly interaction, board state and such. That is the essence of the game, and a game it is.

    1. Good point! Different formats and experiences around the game are a good way to keep the experience fresh. That’s definitely something to keep in mind, but I think that’s separate from the premise, which is that the core game experience is very repetitive when you peel away the layers. This isn’t a negative thing, the game is excellent and the mechanics and ‘minutia’ are so strong, which makes this topic interesting to me. Thanks for the comment!

      Trevor

  4. Everyone gets fatigue. It’s possible to overdo anything. Personally, I don’t feel any of the grind or tiredness or negativity that you talk about today, which is why I think the article has a very diminished point to make. You’re not really able to say objectively “Magic is this way, therefore X”, you’re just saying “I’m bored”.

    Anyway, my point is that as a community we’re always willing to muck-in and help people out. You want ideas? Crowdsource ideas. You want something different? Crowdsource decks. You want to mix things up? Community deckbuilding project. You think modern needs fixing? Modern Nexus design-a-card competition.

    Nobody’s holding you hostage Trev, you don’t have to be beholden to magic and your eye can wander as much as you like. It’s just a game after all. BUT, on a magic-content site, I’m gonna be honest, I don’t want to read about how you’re bored of your magic experience. What do I gain from that?

    You want inspiration or help, reach out to the community. Only good will come of it.

    1. Ben,

      I definitely don’t intend to do more than one of these, this was a very personal, very opinionated one-of that I think was successful as an individual piece, but would get old very quick if I did more than one article on this topic. I feel that most of the Magic content out there is bland and analytical, and I wanted to try my hand at something a little more opinionated and polarizing.

      Thanks,
      Trevor

  5. hey Trev, let me tell you a story.
    I recently went to GP Birmingham, and before the event I had the tricky decision whether to do the main event (Modern) or jam side events (also Modern) all weekend. I’m a good player, so there was some real soul-searching in this decision. What kind of player do I want to be, what will I enjoy most?
    I’ll share with you the experience of both sides:
    In the main event, I saw stressed faces, that same nervous relief when they didn’t have to mulligan or when they clinched out a game, and that strained-smile when they lost game 1 of three and had an uphill struggle. I saw the anguish when someone was fighting for day 2 and already had 2 losses. The experience was grueling and frankly, unfun. It was competitive and unsociable. Everyone had their serious faces on. This is the sort of Magic that burns you out, hard.
    In the side events, things were different. People were enjoying magic, talking, laughing, praising each other on their sweet spicy tech or a good sequence of plays, and yet the game still retained a healthy level of competitive play. The anguish, the stress, it wasn’t there. People had come together to play a fun game, win some boosters and have a laugh. It would be difficult to burn out on this kind of magic, because it speaks to the roots of the game. community and fun.

    now I don’t know you personally Trev, but before the GP I asked myself a hard personal question – what kind of Magic player do I want to be? I’m a good player, I know I have what it takes to compete at the top tables, but do i *really* have aspirations to play on the ProTour and do the grueling grind? I want to play competitively, but do I want the anguish? Or do I just want to jam my favourite decks in my favourite format, have some laughs, meet great people and win a couple of booster boxes along the way, while getting the competitive fix I need in a friendlier environment.
    I decided in that moment that I wasn’t going to subject myself to the stress, the negative aspects of competitive play by doing the main event. I opted for Modern side events all weekend, and it was the best choice I made yet in my Magic career.

    now like i said, I don’t know you Trev, but just from this article it seems like you may have “done the main event” to coin a metaphor, whereas i’m loving Modern more than ever and I recognised my competitive needs in a different kind of way. Perhaps it’s time to opt into the side-event way of doing things? Magic is, after all, about fun and community, not just those tiny percentage gains and agonising moments of relief or loss. Ask yourself; what kind of magic player do you want to be? are you *really* sizing up the ProTour? or would you be happier getting your competitive fix in a friendlier setting. It’s perfectly possible to have challenging and enlightening games of magic in a casual setting, not everything has to be serious-face-competitive-argh mentality all the time.

    take it easy Trev.

      1. Sounds good Trev.

        I used to write mtg articles for Pucatrade (before they went a bit weird) so if you feel like you want more in the way of that community/fun aspect of things on here, hit me up. I share Jordan’s penchant for spice and brews.

        Look forward to your upcoming article.

  6. I can definitely see the difficulty producing regular content over a long period of time. Most people will have a few specific insights to provide on magic or modern and after a while thats just it – theres nothing more in the tank. A standard format writer gets fresh fodder at regular intervals but a modern writer in a period of format stability only has so much new stuff that can be said before you delve into tier 3 brews.

    Modern nexus seems to have completely lost the stats and data angle and is now a series of basically opinion pieces. Even david putting in hundreds of games to test banned cards thwarts himself by breaking from his data to talk about how it “feels” and what the theoretical metagame impacts might be of an unban – four steps removed from the card itself. I also realy think he should have rolled out the results with one article per matchup. More value for the time and more detail/insight for the reader.

    But gone are metagame stats and predictions based on the trends which is too bad as that was the unique thing here. You guys are soldiering on and you presumably have the stats on views and clicks but perhaps youll find that without a unique angle and with a cap on what the same 3 guys can say about a format month after month the raison d’etre of the site itself is kind of lost.

  7. I think part of this is the overprinting of value cards and midrangey, etb creatures. It seems like right now wotc wants everyone to play midrange, and none of the other 3 quadrants – and when they are played, they’re just faster/slower midrange, or midrange with a combo kill. It’s blah.

  8. I wrote articles for about 2 years as well – nothing as high profile as Modern Nexus – and found myself burnt out – I even took a MtG hiatus. I’ve not got back to that place where I was when I was writing each and every week. I’m not sure I will.

    I understand the ‘lack of readership’ issue. It can be tough pouring time into something when the only comments is people picking your article apart due to a typo, or slight miscalculation. I suppose its easier criticizing something, and going ‘look what I found and because of this I’m smarter’ rather than saying “Well done” to an article.

    My advice: Try having a bit more fun with MtG, rather than a total ‘win/loss’ situation. Find the fun again.

    Good Luck!

  9. Hi Trevor,
    I get you. I do not have time to play so much, i mostly collect cards. And i understand most modern decks are prototyped after all years, standard sets barely give cards to these decks and standart itself can’t compete any tier 2 modern deck because of power level issues so it feels like there is nothing new

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