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Getting Carded

March 10, 2011 Leave a comment

While cleaning up all the crap I’ve since accumulated in my closet for the umpteenth time this week, I came across my old CCG, or collectible card game collection, stored away unceremoniously in a DVS shoebox and a Linksys wireless router box. Although I’ve since curbed my packrat tendencies of yore, this is one of those instances that I’m glad I held onto things that ostensibly served me no outright purpose and only seemed to take up space at the time of cleaning.

Finding my old Magic: The Gathering cards was a delight; multiple copies of Balance, Necropotence, Hypnotic Specters, Crusade, Wrath of God, all of my Tolarian Academies, and my full playset of Cursed Scrolls were just some of the singles I forgot I owned. Digging deeper into my collection, I unearthed swaths of different games that I at one point entertained the notion of playing full-time. Amongst the good (Doomtown, L5R), the obscure (Mythos, X-Files, Kult), the criminally underused (Illuminati: NWO, NetRunner), and the shitty (Spellfire, Overpower, Galactic Empires), were stacks of random Marvel Universe and DC trading cards that I religiously collected in my elementary school days, before Richard Garfield added a layer of functionality on top of these otherwise unusable pieces of cardboard.

From an outside perspective, lots of these games that came out after Magic‘s CCG renaissance were copies attempting to cash in on some kind of trend and for many of the games of lesser quality that came out, this statement holds true. But there was also this undeniable sense of creativity and freedom of expression that emerged as games came and went. Designers started to utilize then-underused mechanics such as bluffing and, my favorite, non-violence to define victory conditions for players that were used to Magic‘s melee/damage-based player interaction (in L5R, this was aptly known as the “Enlightenment Victory”). It didn’t take long for games to shrug off the moniker “Doom clones” and grow into “First-person shooters”, which then gave us games like Deus Ex, System Shock, and Oblivion, and it saddens me to come to the realization that the CCG boom, oversaturation, and eventual implosion was a one-time fluke that will probably never replicate itself again.

I think that happened to the CCG movement as a medium of entertainment was unique in that Magic gave birth to and subsequently quashed the market’s chances of evolving. Because Wizards of the Coast trademarked “tapping” a card (to turn the card 90 degrees and indicate that it’s been used), lots of CCGs that came out had to either find ways around tapping as activation. Take a look at any card from those anime-based CCGs and place it next to some Magic cards; to this day, Magic has the most streamlined, easy-to-read visual design in contrast to many later CCGs that had a gajillion different icons with various numbers squeezed onto their cards. And try as they might, no card game ever came close to emulating the stable of artistic talent Magic cards had behind them. Artists like Anson Maddocks, Mark Tedin, and Brom created a flexible yet uniquely recognizable aesthetic for the game that continues today with newer artists like Jason Chan and Raymond Swanlund.┬áThat’s not to say that, like always, the internet didn’t play some pivotal role in paving the CCG industry’s path to destruction, either.

As someone who was introduced to the game before 4th edition, I consider myself to be an old-school Magic player. This was when the Serra Angel, Shivan Dragon, and Lord of the Pit were considered to be the best creatures in the game. This was when we all took the game-changing power of Counterspells and Lightning Bolts for granted. This was when I ran 2 copies of Demonic Tutor in any Black deck, mono or multi, that I created (natch for Balance in mono-white). This was when we, much like early Street Fighter II players discovered linkable combos, figured out how to get the most out of 60-card decks by creating tribal themed decks before Lorwyn introduced the mechanic, Black-blue control before the combination became a paradigm in today’s Type II metagame, and the “Red Deck Wins” design strategy was called “Sligh”. This was when combinations and effective deck types grew organically out of the groundwork Wizards of the Coast’s game designers provided for players, a toolbox of sorts that gave birth to the insane power of the Necropotence deck, along with recurring champion Mark Justice’s bizarre creations. This was before the internet and net-decking.

When I get a chance, I’d like to write some retrospectives on some of these card games I’ve since abandoned, but sounds like positive, feel-good bullcrap. As it’s hardly my intent to abandon the humorless curmudgeon of an alter-ego I’ve thus created for myself on this blog, I’m going to bitch about Magic when the opportunity presents itself. My fingers are too tired from a combination of typing and organizing thousands of cards that I can’t bear to part with. Also, my brain’s fried from the different deck combinations I’ve come up with while trying to write this blog. Ugh.

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