The Magic of precons


I remember a friend, he was one or two years old than me, was proudly showing this new game to somebody else. "This will make me rich. I can take all your money if I win!". I had no idea what he was talking about. It was a card game and the rules were in English and neither I nor he nor anyone around us knew enough of English to figure out what the game actually was or how you were supposed to play it. All he knew was that you could win a lot of money with it if you were good. In hindsight he was probably talking about "ante". Because the championships at the time certainly couldn't have been what he meant. But who knows, it's been such a long time since my first encounter with Magic the Gathering. And I didn't even pay it much thought at the time. The language barier didn't help there, of course. And neither did being a poor 13-year old. Or whatever it was. Wait I can do the math... okay, yeah 1994, I was 13.

So my first encounter with MtG was very brief, no more than a brief puzzled look, I never even played the game and it would take a few more years before I'd see it again. If only I knew then ... Oh well.

In 1999/2000 a class mate gave me a real introduction to the game. He was a "judge". Ok, whatever dude. I guess it meant that our games were short lived and painstakingly complex. At least I wasn't the only one who had a pretty hard time beating his various special themed decks. Regenerating zombies, damage preventing white decks, slivers ... in hindsight there was no way inexperienced little me could have beaten him unless very lucky. But it was fun and we casually played for a year or so. I got a small collection. I don't even remember what exactly. The internet wasn't what it is now and I never bothered to get price lists or whatever. It wasn't _that_ kind of collection. Just a shoe box full of cards, you know. Ditched it all for 35 bucks too when I quit. Oh, if only I knew then. Oh well.

1999/2000, that means Urza, Masques, Invasion, Odyssey. I quit right when Onslaught was released. I had changed schools and there was nobody around me to play with so it kind of fell by the wayside. And while I did enjoy collecting the cards and opening a few boosters, I realized very well that there was no way for me to catch'em'all because I was still a poor schmuck. Just a few years older. Heck, even the 35 bucks I made was probably less than I should've gotten for it. Not to mention what those cards would do nowadays.

The years passed on and I did very little with magic. I saw it every once in a while, a random deck at a friend, some collegues playing commander ("nah thanks, I'm over it"), but never payed it much attention.

I guess part of the reason would be that A: my wife has little interest in MtG and B: nobody in my circle of friends really plays magic. In fact, after checking it turns out pretty much most of my friends never played magic. Shocking, I know! And for the record, my wife likes games just like me. She's just into slightly different games than MtG. Not for lack of me trying, mind you. I really loved for her to get into MtG. Tried to persuade her. Wanted to buy some decks but didn't because it'd be a waste of money if she wouldn't like it after all. Then a shopkeeper gave me a free promo half-deck. That was great, perfect! If only it was. But instead of introducing a new player to magic, they were just plunged into the deep and the myriad of rules, some of which I didn't even know, just affirmed her belief that this wasn't her kind of game and that was that. Damnit WotC, you had ONE job.

And so that would be that, but that promo deck remained on my desk. Cards are a good way to keep your hands from getting bored, like rubiks cubes or spinning dice, and so I kept shuffling the deck and idly playing with them. I guess at least they served that purpose.

A few weeks back I was in a random book store in the US with a friend and I was scanning for board games. I usually scan book stores for table top games and puzzle books so that's nothing new. I found a magic(al) corner and ended up convincing myself I could buy a deck if he would too so we could play some magic. And so we each bought a deck but due to circumstances the rest of the day got wrecked and we didn't actually get to play until a few weeks later in Berlin. Which I won ;)

Even though we didn't play, the damage had been done. I cought the bug again and ... I splurged a little. See, the problem before was that I was a poor schmuck that could not spend the money to have a chance at beating the top tier decks of his friends. Now I'm a rich schmuck with just a few faraway magic playing friends. Oh and no time to play it. Drat.

Yeah I know, there's "Friday Night Magic" (fnm). But I've been getting back in the game since Kaladesh was released and I haven't been able to attend a single fnm since then. Oh you grown up parenting social life you.

I realized there was no real point in actually collecting enough cards to build cool decks because that's only really fun if you can pitch them against somebody else doing the same. Neither random people nor friends occassionally coming over would fit that bill so what's the point in stuffing a deck with a thousand euros worth of myths and rares. There really isn't any as the game simply wouldn't be balanced. So opening those boosters was fun but now what. That also sums up my wife's opinion on my actions for that matter ;) But hey, I finally did something I explicitly couldn't do when I was young; buy a booster box and just go crazy on it. That. Was. Great :) How did I not realize sooner that I could do this.

After doing that, and scanning in the cards I got to get an overview of my new found collection, I was left with a little unsatisfied void. Opening the boosters was fun, for sure, and worth it. But now I got some great cards (vehicles! flipcards! planeswalkers!) and no consistent way to really play with them. But an urge to do something with them anyways. So annoying. First world problems, I know.

What's the alternative to building a great deck you can't use because it wouldn't make for a fun and fair game? I remembered that WotC (which, by the way, is "Wizards of the Coast", the company that releases MtG) used to release certain decks. I remember it because I had one or two of them back in the day. So I decided I would buy some of those decks with the idea that they would be fair to play with when pitched against another deck of the same set. That way when friends come over I can just pass them a deck of the same set and it would be fun, just not max powerlevel. And I wouldn't need to arbitrary construct a deck because there was this company with over 20 years of experience that could do this for me. They might not be top of the line, but at least they would be sound. Right?

So I dug into that. I bought two or three of these decks. And ... down the rabbit hole I went. Enter the world of pre-constructed decks, or "precons".

If I can't collect the individual cards because they're too expensive and oh I'm lagging 20 years behind then what about precons? That seems feasible to a point and at least somewhat useful. So there we go. Let's collect pre-constructed decks. That has a fairly well defined boundary in terms of what to collect. The problem with individual cards is that it's difficult to set that boundary. Apart from 20 years of set releases there is also tournaments, alt prints, error prints, signed prints, release specials, and don't even get me started on foils or rares or myths or that new super myth whose name I forgot right now (masterpiece series). It's just so many cards that you won't know where to stop.

Decks are simpler. Not simple, just simpler. I've compiled a list that's currently at about 600 to 700 decks. Probably misses a few specials but I don't expect it to peak significantly higher than this. It actually turns out to be difficult to get an accurate and complete lists of precons. Well, if you count stuff like the world championship decks (definitely) and free promo half-decks (I would). I basically draw the line at; 1: has to be an official release by WotC, and 2: it has to be constructed with a predetermined list of cards. So in that light, From the vault: Twenty is in because it may not be a deck but it's still an assorted subdeck and the 2 player battle packs are not because they are boosters. The promo half decks, containing 30 cards and given out for free, are also in. To me they make this more fun because they are much harder to get since they're not regularly for sale (the box says so!). I don't care much for the boosters some of the intro/event decks have and at the moment I also don't pay much attention to Commander.

I'm still torn about what to preserve and collect. I'll open the sealed packages, so there's that. I fully intend to play with the decks if there's an opportunity. I'm not going to sleeve them for now. So I've probably made a few of you stab their eyes out right now. Sorry about that. I don't intend to collect to trade or sell. I want a collection I can use. At the same time, I do want the official set. Meaning I want to try and keep the booklets and all that crap you usually just toss out. I'm going to keep boosters closed for now, since they only skew the decks anyways. And really, what kind of card am I expecting from a booster to blow me away? Right.

Can I just rant a little on packaging? The early decks were put in a holder that regular decks of cards come in. That's actually fine. But the intro packs, the duel decks, and the planes walker packaging is horrible to open! There seems to be no clean way of opening them on either end. Worse yet, once they're opened there's no clean way of closing them again. The older intro packs at least had a hard plastic cover that would keep the cards somwhat in place once you opened a pack but the newer ones don't even have that. I'm not exactly sure what the hell WotC was smoking or thinking there, but it's super annoying. And couldn't they at least give you a deck box like they do with the duel decks? This is a little sad. I know the intro packs line is discontinued and the replacement is actually doing that, but still... that's some horrible packaging designs right there :(

Oh and before I forget, what I like about MtG is what I like about most games; it's a puzzle to solve to get to a win. With MtG it's just a little more puzzle than some other games. While there's a bit of of the draw involved, the the point of a solid deck is that it should well behave as long as it is properly shuffled. That's what I'm hoping to get from precons; well balanced decks.

I'm still setting up and getting my bearings, but hopefully this post is a headsup in case my blog gets few more magic related posts ;) Oh and if you wanna play magic I'm probably carrying a duel deck of some kind. Just ask me! :)