The Paradox/Problem of Being a Casual MTG Player

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Posted on July 8, 2021, 11:52 a.m. by MagicSteve6

this isn't a discussions about cost - I just play on Untap for free and am happy with that. If it's relevant to the disucssion: I've been only playing Modern, since Standard changes so much, I'm not able to keep up with it

I really like MTG. In a world of infinite time, I'd be reading the articles, watching the videos, learning the cards, building great decks. But I work two jobs, have other hobbies that I priortize more, and I do some volunteer work. It means that I don't have much time to spend on MTG. So that leaves me with two options:

  1. Create my own deck. I find this really fun, but it inevitably won't be as good as expert decks, because I don't have the knowledge (or time) to really craft something as powerful as more serious players can. So I have fun building it, but then I just get stomped on when I actually play it = not very fun.

  2. I copy a top-tier decklist from one of the many experts online. I can actually win some games, but to me that's boring. I understand there's also skill to how you play a deck, but building it seems like the real strategy of the game, and to have just copied someone else's work, it feels like having an arcade game where all you do is press a button and you win = not very fun.

So the paradox/problem is that it's 99.9% likely that no matter how many hours I spend crafting my own deck, it won't be as good as one I can find online and copy in 5 minutes. This runs counter to the basic principle of sports or other games(chess, eSports, etc) where you start with no skill, and as you put in time and effort, you progress and become better and better. But in MTG, I can "skip the line" and just download an pro-level deck with zero effort.

So as a casual MTG player, I'm finding it pretty hard to actually have a lot of fun. If the answer is to intentionally seek out worse decks to play against, so then I create a game that's labeled: "No good decks"? Still feels weird.

Pikobyte says... #2

Commander is your answer. Even more options when building decks, you can build all kinds of stuff no matter how janky and make it viable and it can also be very budget friendly

July 8, 2021 1:01 p.m.

Grubbernaut says... #3

I understand what you're getting at, but consistently winning takes a lot more than copy and paste.

I'd suggest trying out rogue decks for a happy medium between tiered decks and home brewing.

July 8, 2021 1:02 p.m.

xtechnetia says... #4

I see this sentiment a lot. A few points:

  • Playing a deck well is very much a key part of the game. Sure, many decks are largely mechanical in execution once you're a decent enough player (insert tired joke about Modern Tron) but many other decks are far less linear and will require substantial experience.
  • Netdecking has been part of constructed since forever. This is what games are about - using the resources at your disposal. Are we to tell aspiring chess players "don't study openings, make up your own"? Are we to tell aspiring Starcraft players "don't study build timings, make up your own"?
  • A deck isn't inherently more interesting just because it's "unique". I'd probably be bored out of my mind playing ally tribal. Sure, it's not something you usually see in Modern, but when you pick it up and play it, you realize you're basically playing humans, just with much worse cards. I fail to see how this is fun or skill-testing in any manner.
  • Anything you come up with, someone has probably tried it and posted a list online somewhere. Wasting mental capacity on worrying about being "original" is pointless. The truth about constructed is that there are only so many good strategies, and they always hinge on good cards, good interactions between cards, or both.
  • A good constructed player usually looks up lists for inspiration and for guidance, and will make the tweaks they see appropriate to their playstyle/meta/whatever. I do this all the time with my own Modern decks. Making the necessary tweaks to an existing list is itself an expression of deckbuilding skill, even if it's not the same as building a decklist from scratch.
  • If you want an environment where good deckbuilding always matters and shows itself, play limited. That is fun and skill-testing in its own right.
July 8, 2021 1:19 p.m.

legendofa says... #5

If you find a way to build an original competitive Modern deck, please let me know about it. The top-end competitive decks are designed by people who build, test, revise, and rebuild decks literally every day, and for some people it might be their main source of income. It actually is their full-time job, with payday coming at the end of a tournament.

Most people I know have one or two "signature" decks that they have owned and updated for years. These decks range from super-casual to super-competitive but the players know them inside out and upside down. I've seen a $120 Modern deck sweep the floor with one ten times its value just off of deck familiarity.

Find yourself a few brew-friendly people, or advertise that you're looking for casual/lower tier/homebrew decks. Since free sites don't have any real stakes, I've noticed people are willing to be more experimental if you ask. Sure, you'll run into a couple of people who think that their barely modified tournament deck is a "brew" because they changed two cards, but you should be able to find something that fits your style.

July 8, 2021 3:34 p.m.

RNR_Gaming says... #6

Everything at some point has or is going to be done - and done quickly. In all my years of playing magic I've only seen 2 100% fresh decks be created in modern: Lantern control and amulet Titan. (This is a slight exaggeration- I suppose Hallows one and pheonix count too) Everything else has been a play on existing decks - standard and draft is the only place creativity can actually flourish but only for like a few weeks before a gp/open/pro tour. Commander use to be very brewer friendly but with the increase in resources and the printing of dozens of generically good cards you'll be hard pressed not to play whatever everyone else is playing.

Basically, my advise would be to find a top teir deck that offers a variety of cool lines that makes every game feel different even if the strategy is fine tuned to do the same thing. I've greatly enjoyed pod decks. Sure, you're just trying to kiki out the win and go up the line but with all the spicey tech and good creatures you're still playing a really cool midrange deck. Counters company is the closest thing you'll get to the old pod in modern and commander has blood pod and blue pod and outside of the fancy lands and mana rocks most of the deck is affordable.

July 8, 2021 5:38 p.m.

abby315 says... #7

Most advice here is solid already, but I have a new suggestion: get into Limited! If what you like about the game is building a deck, you might really appreciate getting into Draft or Sealed (but especially Draft).

I play at my LGS or on Arena (but enjoy it much more in-person), but if you don't want to pay to play you could also build a budget or pauper cube. The building of a cube itself is really fun, too.

You can also make a bunch of "battle decks" to have people select among to play. This keeps decks at a similar power level and also you get to design a bunch of decks.

July 8, 2021 7:42 p.m. Edited.

Second the commander, draft, cube, etc. suggestions from higher in this thread.

I think Modern as a format just doesn’t lend itself to being able to brew your own decks and still perform at the same level of competitiveness as the top decks- if there was a deck that could, it’d have been created already, so there’s not much room in the realm of new decks to work with.

I’ve been in a similar situation- also playing on untap, starting in Modern, and wanting to try to create my own decks. Those decks never ending up really working that well, just being inferior to the tried-and-true, more meta decks. Moving into EDH recently has been great, I feel like I don’t need to meet a power level standard and can play at whatever level I want, and there’s room for a lot more diversity with all the different commanders and strategies, but a lot of different formats all would offer things like that, without this paradox of Modern

July 8, 2021 9:52 p.m.

sergiodelrio says... #9

Deckbuilding and playing are two different things entirely and require completely different skill sets.

In MTG there is this concept of player types which are classified by what motivates them to play the game.

  • Spike - is looking to be as competitve as possible and plays to win

  • Johnny/Jenny - likes to express themselves through their deck and really mostly plays to show their opponents the crazy hombrew build they came up with

  • Tammy/Timmy - Plays entirely for the fun of it and is all about linear strategies and splashy effects

From what you've said above, I think you're mostly a Johnny, but you'd also like those sweet spike moments.

Mixing and maxing innovation and power level is that much harder and much more time consuming than only doing one of those two.

When you're making a homebrew in a vacuum, you just put in the cards you think work well together/ achieve a specific goal or effect.

As you get more experienced with that, step 2 is to also balance it to be consistent within itself (=create the best version of that deck).

However, the strategy you chose will most likely fold to the metagame if that is competitive.

This now requires you to not only build something you like, but it has now the additional restriction to be able to win vs the current competitve meta. In order to achieve that, not only do you have to know the meta, you also need to be a good player already so your judgment is sound on strategic and deckbuilding decisions.

Think about it... someone at some point DID come up with the Tron deck, the Jund deck, etc. - they hadn't existed before.

So in conclusion, what you are asking is objectively impossible, especially since you're on a time limit.

  • If you want to go to FNM and win (vs the spikes), stick to a meta deck and learn it.

  • If you want to test your new brews there, expect to lose a lot.

  • If you want to win with your homebrews, play against Johnnys or Timmys wherever they are (likely not FNM).

  • If you want to win vs the Spikes with your homebrew, you'll need to invest A LOT of time beforehand.

July 9, 2021 5:02 a.m.

sergiodelrio says... #10

Addendum: "This runs counter to the basic principle of sports or other games(chess, eSports, etc) where you start with no skill, and as you put in time and effort, you progress and become better and better."

I strongly disagree with this take. Sure, if you compare it to chess, each player starts with the same 'build' - there only is one - and they can focus on learning and improving their strategy and decisions.

But compared to other (e-)sports:

  • Formula 1: The people who biuld the car are not the people who drive the car

  • Football (/ -simulator): The coach has a different job than the players, your 'build' or lineup matters when you play a sports video game

  • Even in things like Tennis your gear matters and is always a different choice than the decision you make while you're actually playing the game

  • Even in chess... imagine there was a variant where you had some freedom on what position your pieces start on, or maybe some degree of freedom to exchange some pieces with others... this would add an element to the game which exceeds in-game decision making

July 9, 2021 5:37 a.m. Edited.

sergiodelrio says... #11

PPS (and sorry for long post):

Playing is fun

Winning is work

July 9, 2021 5:47 a.m.

rotimislaw says... #12

I know your pain MagicSteve6. I too like to build decks and play competitively in non-tier1 meta. But you can't make others align to your projection of the game :)

Format & Playgroup is the answer: various Limited formats, Commander at some power level, few others - depends on what is available where you play.

Personally, I just accepted the fact that depending on luck on a tournament day I can't win more than 30~70% of games. I enjoy playing, community, and testing my skills where possible.

July 9, 2021 8:37 a.m.

Gleeock says... #13

From the perspective from someone who has alot of family/work/2ndary hobbies; I go echo chamber - format & playgroup. I have a group of friends that get together & play some Wizard Poker (commander) every month. That works great for me as far as work/family/life. I stopped playing online, even EDH personally, but that is due to the controlling/paywall nature of the discord engine I was using and also I found it to be a little dumb potentially sinking 3 hours into completely relying on the honor system with other player's hands & moves. Certainly the format I play has click & paste staples, but within the meta we have grown so tired of those it is usually not a problem - we don't typically see them all in one deck anymore. You can play with 25-cent Kardur, Doomscourge & still win :)

July 10, 2021 9:52 a.m.

legendofa says... #14

yeaGO or a passing moderator, could we please get a cleanup here?

July 24, 2021 12:06 p.m.

being a casual player means not going to tournaments, and if you're not going to tournaments then your deck doesn't need to be super refined in the first place. just brew something, and upgrade it over time as you find out what works and what doesn't against your friends decks.

i find the recommendations of commander, cube, or sealed to be odd recommendations. commander includes every set from throughout magic's history, so thats a lot of cards to look through to build a deck for someone who has so little time, and the precons are really bad. cube also has the same issue of time, as well as needing more than just 2 players. sealed events have to be done on the stores schedule instead of your own which will be difficult or impossible with 2 jobs, plus it seems a bit silly for a players "main" format to be one where a given card only gets played once (unless someone cheats and sneaks in their own cards from the same set which is always a risk you take with sealed events like draft and prerelease). if these formats work for you then great, but i doubt they'll work with your time constraint.

that being said, i think the best format recommendation is actually one that nobody here has said yet, which is pauper. the power levels are low enough that even if you don't win, you're at least not getting totally stomped on if you brew something decent. my own version of eldrazi tron does pretty well.

July 24, 2021 12:53 p.m.

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