by Bruce Gray -Casual encounters
Magic is an amazing game. I can think of very few games that allow you to do the sort of things Magic can do. No, I don’t mean cast spells and have minotaurs and dragons do battle. What I have in mind is that you can play a large number of different games, all with the same bunch of cards, and still have it be called Magic. That’s very unique. Think about it…how many different games can you play with Monopoly? Clue? Stratego? These games have 1 way of playing the game…but Magic has a number. In addition, the way to play Magic and what each player is seeking from the game experience differs greatly making the way for countless reasons and ways to play. That is what I love about Magic…every game is fresh, fun, and with a new outcome based on how and why you decide to play.
So, when someone says they play Casual Magic it can be very tricky to pin down how and why people play and this is why there can be a certain amount of disagreement over the cards that are acceptable to play. Recently I had a discussion with a friend of mine who was complaining that he didn’t feel that there was any place in our Casual Magic environment for Planeswalkers. I had heard a similar argument raised a couple of weeks ago on a podcast and paused. I looked at my friend and was really interested in hearing about his thoughts on Planeswalkers.
My friend started making the argument that initially, when Magic was created, there was no need for additional Planeswalkers because the players themselves were serving that role. In fact, he argued, there really isn’t any place for MORE Planeswalkers than the players themselves because they represent something that is not “created” by the player in terms of spells in his library. How can you cast a spell and summon an entirely different person? It doesn’t make sense and it spoils Magic. He continued on in his diatribe by saying that Planeswalkers represent the creep of competitive Magic into the Casual community because everyone wants to play to most powerful cards and many of the Planeswalkers are exactly that. They spoil the fun of the game because they are such powerful cards that they drain the fun from the game and warp the board state for all the other players. You need to either immediately eliminate the Planeswalker or cast one of your own…so fight it…or join it. Needless to say, my friend was clearly the sort of person who was not overly interested in seeing Planeswalkers in our decks.
Now, I admit, I paraphrased somewhat on behalf of my friend…in part for expediencies sake, and partly because he used some rather “colourful” language is his complain, but the crux of the matter is that he clearly feels that Casual Magic is not the place for Planeswalkers. Now, on my end, I feel slightly differently about the state of Planeswalkers and I wanted to share my thoughts with you today.
Fundamentally, I have no issue with playing Planeswalkers in Casual decks or in Casual games in general and I have a number of reasons why. My friend started his argument with the inception of the game back in 1993 to justify why there was no place for Planeswalkers. They didn’t start the game with Planeswalkers…so we don’t need them now. This is an argument founded on the reluctance to change. Human being don’t like change and the older we get the more reticent we are to changing. Think about it…why do you do certain things the way you do? Why do you follow a certain path when you’re out walking the dog? Why do have a “favorite” when you order pizza? Why do you buy the same model of shoes when you need a new pair? Your brain craves things that don’t change and change scares it…so when you change a game like Magic by adding Planeswalkers there are some players who are unwilling to accept this change. So, when I heard this argument from my friend it was clear to me that he didn’t like the change.
Now, some of you will say “Ummm…Planeswalkers have been around for ages…what gives?” but the truth is that they were released in 2007 in Lorwyn which is only 7 years ago. That means for 13 years there were exactly zero Planeswalker cards, so for the bulk of the existence of Magic Planeswalkers just weren’t cards to play with. That makes them, on the whole, relatively new to the scene. Also, add in the idea that many players leave the game and then return to it (much like myself). Now, these returning players, who may not be familiar with Planeswalkers because they didn’t exist when they last played, are suddenly facing this new card type that is a major force to be dealt with in the game. No, I get the argument and understand the feelings of my friend.
However, there is also a part of the brain that craves new experiences and craves to learn. Why do we travel to new places? Why do we try bungee jumping or para-gliding? Why do we try new foods? Our brain, which is scared of too much change craves a certain amount of change and innovation or else it goes stale. My feeling is that Planeswalkers are one of those changes to Casual magic which is healthy for the game and the players involved. Now, like anything, moderation is the key, so integrating some Planeswalkers into your Casual games can be fun and refreshing. Of course, you can always go back to playing games without them…that isn’t a issue…but trying something kind of new and different for you is positive, so I feel like Planeswalkers can survive that ordeal and still be played.
The second half of his argument is essentially that Planeswalkers are too powerful. Essentially in Casual Magic there is a “Social Contract” and that Planeswalkers violate this contract. Now, by “social contract” I mean there are a number of nebulous rules about how to play the game in order to make the game experience fun for everyone. You hear about this most often with EDH, but the same sort of thing applies to Casual Magic. In essence, you don’t want to play cards that are so powerful that they spoil the experience for others, or play in such a way as to spoil the game for others. This means no rough combos, no “broken” cards, and no Planeswalkers.
Ok, so that can work depending on your playgroup, but I always respond to this sort of argument like this: What’s fundamentally wrong with letting someone play with a busted combo once in a while? So long as he swaps the deck out after he Painter’s Servant/Grindstones you to death what’s the harm? I agree, it is no fun to play the same grossly over powered deck time and again, but once in a while there is nothing wrong with it. In fact, I WANT to see that combo…it’s how I learn! It is highly unlikely I will ever piece that combo together myself, so if I can see it once in a while that’s COOL. Sure, we all groan and scoop, but the fact is we just watched a premier combo slice and dice. That’s pretty neat to see…and it’s even MORE fun if you can beat it. So, in your playgroup, there is no reason you can’t play some busted combos, or absolutely degenerate cards, or Planeswalkers, so long as you are prepared to mix it up and play some different decks that give everyone the chance to play and have fun.
Which brings me to learning…part of the interesting part of playing Magic is learning. You learn by watching other people play. The decks they build. The cards they value over others. How they decide to play and the interactions they create. To rob yourself of the chance to learn something just because you don’t like it or you feel it spoils the fun seems a little short sighted to me. Sure, you don’t want to play against the things you don’t like or the overpowered cards every game, and so moderation and variety needs to be mixed in, but there is nothing wrong with players running Planeswalkers in a Casual game. Just be sure you learn from the experience so you know how to interact with that situation in the future.
My last point in terms of allowing Planeswalkers into Casual play is much more “nuts and bolts” way in the sense that increasingly Wizards is printing cards that specifically target Planeswalkers so that you have more tools to manage them. Think about it, in the last 2 years they have printed things like Dreadbore, Abrupt Decay, Hero’s Downfall, Fated Retribution, and Fated Conflagration all of which can target Planeswalkers giving you a number of options to deal with Planeswalkers. So, if you don’t like them you at least now have an option with which to fight them.
No, I see no good reason to NOT allow Planeswalkers in Casual games of Magic, but they do require a little more careful consideration. You and the people in your playgroup need to have a discussion if there are players who are genuinely upset by Planeswalkers. Perhaps you can work out some sort of a compromise to allow everyone to play the decks they build. This is the beauty of the “social contract”…it can be amended and changed. However, maybe your playgroup is 100% okay with Planeswalkers, in which case keep calm and carry on.
At the end of the day the criticism of Planeswalkers in Casual Magic probably has far less to do with the actual cards and more to do with the fact that some players have stronger decks and win more frequently. If that is the case, limiting Planeswalkers is one potential way to even the playing field, but the more important factor is building decks that match the overall skill and power level in your playgroup. The complaints against Planeswalkers are likely more symptomatic of a problem than the actual cause. So, there is nothing wrong with having decks that emulate tier 1 decks in various constructed formats, but there is also a time and place for other fun and less powerful decks to keep you playgroup fun and fresh.
Thanks very much for reading guys and if you have any ideas or thoughts on Planeswalkers or Casual Magic in general, I’m all ears. Just shoot me off a tweet at @bgray8791 because I’d love to hear what you think.
Until next time, Keep it fun, Keep it safe…keep it Casual.
The opening strategy is focused on your mana dorks to come and ramp to the fatties. We find full sets of Elvish Mystic, Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix all of which can speed you plan up by several turns. Also, removal aimed at them means less removal to deal with the big boys. As far as those ‘big boys’ are concerned there is Polukranos, World Eater and Stormbreath Dragon who’s ability to become Monstrous will often spell certain doom for your opponents well before they’re ready to deal with them. Then there are a few support creatures with Reaper of the Wilds with a Scry ability helpful when the opponent is removing your creatures or chumping with his, Ghor-Clan Rampager which can turn a game saving chump block into a game ending surprise, Scavenging Ooze with incidental lifegain and graveyard hate, and Xenagos, God of Revels pushing the beatdown plan into high gear. Speaking of Xenagos we find the same standard package of Planeswalkers as in Gruul with Domri Rade and Xenagos, the Reveler which both are invaluable in a creature heavy deck both accelerating and digging for them while also working hard to control the battlefield. The addition of Black is what allows an interesting one of Vraska, the Unseen which can spell certain doom if her assassins are able to infiltrate through the enemies defenses but will most often be used as removal of various types of threats. And speaking of removal the deck is completed with a minor removal suite which consists of a pair of Dreadbore and pair of Mizzium Mortars but is also somewhat supplemented by the Monstrous ability.