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It’s always a little sad when someone you like sharing your hobby with feels they no longer wants to play Magic the Gathering. Years, sometimes decades, of collecting and experience suddenly seems like it will go to waste. But why do people quit? Well, there can be a number of complex reasons. I’ve seen a few very common and familiar themes in why people leave the game over the years of being a collector, a player, and now a writer about Magic.

The question we should be asking ourselves is this: what can Wizards of the Coast do to help enable fans to keep playing and collecting for the game they have loved so much over the years? Let’s look at some reasons why people leave the game.

Feeling you’ve “Grown out of it”

The idea that MtG is just a game for teens, or that collecting for a TGC is somehow childish, is hard to shake. Magic the Gathering isn’t as recognized as some other “nerd” things that have become more fashionable of late and as we get older we can feel under pressure from those around us to be “more mature” or “grow up.”

There isn’t really a whole lot Wizards can do in this case, to be honest. As we’ll see later in, a lot of these reasons have to do with moving on in life. After people leave high school — and especially college — and start moving into full-time employment they can also lose time and interest in keeping up with the trends. As a player or a friend you can offer support and advice. Of course many people do just grow apart from the game and the community. That’s perfectly fine, but I would ask people who feel uneasy about collecting and playing Magic because of those around them to look for people in the community to hang out with who share their passion.

Losing a Store or Playgroup

quit side topI know people who’ve been pretty heartbroken when a store they spent a lot of time at had to close shop. Being an independent business is hard work, especially in smaller towns without a large player base. The unfortunate thing is that people in those out of the way locations need their local store the most of all because it can often be the only hub for Magic the Gathering within a reasonable distance — especially for younger players without cars. When a favorite store closes, some players just pack up their cards and move on. Not having that support network of players around you makes you more likely to want to quit the game.

The solution to getting more people in store isn’t based on allowing stores to get their own prices for limited allocation products; it’s not a question of selling. I think it’s a question of encouraging play. People are always going to buy online if a product is drastically cheaper, like a “From the Vault” product. I think what Wizards needs to do is offer some kind of reward for playing in store. As the Professor over at Tolarian Community College so rightly pointed out, something akin to the old “player rewards system” might serve as a good way to get people in store where they are more likely to buy packs to draft, snacks and other supplementary products that can help keep stores in business.

In terms of a playgroup breaking up, that can have more to do with people having time constraints and people becoming desperate after they no longer have college or work in common. But it can also be due to frustrations in playing your favourite format. Many playgroups just don’t want to play Standard or Modern, and formats like Commander stemmed from these kinds of playgroups. As I said in my Pauper article, Pauper is a great way to have a healthy, inexpensive metagame in a casual format within a playgroup; Wizards has already started supporting Commander officially — why not offer more products targeted at these kinds of playgroups?

Interpersonal Conflicts and Community Tension

This one is a little more controversial. I know people who loathed going to PTQs (Pro Tour Qualifiers) and other large events. Snobby players, poor organization, cliquish practices, and the increasing pervasiveness of so called “safe-space” doctrine can make many players feel uneasy. I’ve had a few people come to me in private and express their apprehension at attending an event due to its polices or expressing a wish to boycott in the wake of incidents like the — frankly unfair — public shaming and banning of promising player Zach Jesse.

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I think if Wizards and Hasbro wants to retain its hardcore audience who follow the competitive scene, and have sunk tens of thousands of dollars in some cases into the game over the years, they need to address their concerns without bowing to a loud minority. The rules for player exclusion need to be clarified and applied more fairly if people are going to feel comfortable attempting to turn pro. The atmosphere in the Magic community has been a little strained of late with the latest panics about identity politics, it’s causing many to quietly hang-up their decks. Players quietly quitting Magic the Gathering because they no longer feel welcome in a “safe space” is a sad state of affairs that I would like to see discontinued.

Underwhelming Expansions

I know a whole swathe of players who left the game after Homeland and Fallen Empires, who have subsequently returned to the game. I’m sure there are a lot who didn’t come back. Magic had a bit of a slump in places, and that was mainly due to poor quality expansions, especially those in the wake of the first few spectacular sets that came out. Kamagawa block is also cited by some as a quitting point due to mechanics that were fiddly  — even within the set — and had no application outside of the set.

Newer players can feel attached to the block they begin playing in, so if there is a widespread feeling the subsequent expansion isn’t worth buying, or is under-powered, then they may think the game is declining in quality. Thankfully Wizards R&D has seemed to generally get the message and slumps in quality are usually reversed in time, but they can have a dramatic effect on the size of the player-base and can take years to recoup. I’m always meeting people who say “I stopped playing because I hated X expansion” and that’s unfortunate.

Quality is obviously subjective, but Wizards of the Coast needs to ensure new expansions are up to par and provide a decent amount of gameplay and value for returning players. To their credit, they’ve been decent at doing this the past few years.

Large-Scale Card Bannings

quit side 1Modern and Legacy decks are a large investment for any player. Many people spend years trading up and consolidating their collection into one top-tier deck to use in competitive tournament play. Having your combo payload or the lynch-pin of your deck banned can cause your deck that cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars to become unplayable and devalued overnight. What are you going to do? Spend a whole lot of time and resources trading away to cobble together another viable way to play the format you love, or drop a huge sum of money to buy a replacement deck right away? Some players just decide they had a good run and the game isn’t for them anymore when this happens. This effects competitive players on a tighter budget most of all, and is why Wizards needs to avoid being too ban happy. The latest banning of Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time in both Modern and Legacy was a little unfortunate in my view as they were relatively cheap standard legal cards that people could start to make inroads into Eternal formats with. Making formats feel less accessible or nulling a new, powerful deck is always bad for player retention.

Large-scale bans in Standard can have an even more disastrous effect. A whole host of newer players will have the deck that was letting them win at Friday Night Magic suddenly null and void. It brings into question the integrity of the game and its design. Players opening boosters from the current set and finding cards they can’t play in Standard is a real feel-bad moment and can confuse newer players. This is why Wizards is so scared to print anything too risky in Standard as it has had a clear record in Standard bans since the 2011 Jace/Stoneforge Mystic debacle.

“I don’t Have Time to Play Anymore”

Real life happens. Many of us work 40 hours plus weeks and commute to and from work. Some of us don’t even get weekends off or work odd shifts and hours. It is really possible to lose the ability to make it to Friday Night Magic. This is where the advantage of having a playgroup comes in; having friends that play Magic who you can sync up schedules with is vital for keeping up play through tough times due to work or family.

This is sadly a very common cause of players simply being unable to play, and thus losing the motivation and connection with the game needed to care about collection. Wanting to do something, loving something, but simply not having time to do it can be demoralizing and depressing, but your well being and the people around you should always come first. Hang in there folks. You can always return to the game. We feel your pain.

The Financial Burden

quit side 2Magic is exorbitantly expensive to be competitive at if you are not highly knowledgeable on how to get the best out of the Magic aftermarket (also see our “MTG on a Budgetarticles.) I’ve known people who feel they have to spend more money than they have or else have no chance at ever winning a game. Budgets can be very relevant: a $50 product is nothing to one person but is beyond their means to another. I know players who’ve chosen MTG over rent or food; never a wise choice.

This is a place Wizards of the Coast really can help. As I said in my analysis of Modern Masters 2015, there needs to be a decision made as to whether Wizards is making the game more accessible or appeasing the increasingly speculative secondary market. Cards that are Standard staples need to be included in supplemental products if the price of decks is not going to spiral, especially when most efficient removal spell is now bumped up to rare, and as I stated in my review of the newest Clash Pack, having cards that are relevant in Modern and Standard in products with a fixed price point is very healthy for the game as a whole. A better value game always means a more accessible game.

Supplemental products are too focused on a small number of collectors when they need to be more focused on getting cards into circulation. What is meant to be a boon for brick and mortar stores more often than not is jumped on by online price-gougers and speculators who drive up prices to insane levels. I feel Wizards is still too timid with reprints of badly needed staples; they behave like this in the 90s when the Magic aftermarket was still trying to establish its legitimacy. We have entire industries dedicated to the secondary market now; it can survive a little heat being taken out of it now and then.

Rotation and the Focus on Standard

The biggest factor in newer players leaving Magic, in my experience, is their first rotation. People get very enthusiastic about the game, buy a whole load of boosters and assume their collection is always going to be relevant. I don’t think they realize how badly rotation affects the value of their cards, or how it means they will be forced to re-build completely to continue playing Standard. Cycling out cards causes many newer players to rage-quit as their exciting top-tier deck is suddenly a pile of worthless bulk consigned to the storage box.

As experienced players, we know to sell off the cards we don’t want or those that aren’t applicable to Modern before rotation to eke out some value. It’s become a yearly tradition and will soon happen more frequently as smaller rotations happen more regularly.  The fact that the vast majority of rares have absolutely no playability or value once they leave Standard isn’t something new players tend to understand. Building a deck and growing attached to it is a feeling we all know and is something especially keen with your first Standard deck. We used to take bets at my old shop on which players would and wouldn’t still be here post-rotation.

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This is one area that I think Wizards of the Coast needs to greatly improve. In the vast majority of situations the focus is on Standard, especially at a local and store play level. Some stores still struggle to fill Modern events, so we still have a chicken and egg situation where people aren’t exposed to Modern enough to know anything about it’s metagame. I don’t play Standard — I think it’s a treadmill of wasted money — but for the first year of playing MTG I didn’t really know much about the alternatives. Everything I saw pushed Standard, and to a lesser extent the current draft format. It took me a long time to realize investing in Eternal formats was a superior option in every way. Most long time players I know are like me; “I used to keep up with standard until X” is what I hear a lot of. Eventually we all get off the Standard treadmill and much of the time that means leaving the game behind.

I know Wizards has said they want Eternal formats like Modern be more affordable, but if the muddle of Modern Masters 2015 is anything to go by then those remain just empty words. Standard is the first port of call for competitive play and new players largely don’t seem willing to keep on re-building a deck for what can amount to hundreds of dollars, and will be worth pennies in just a few months. Supporting better alternatives to Standard at sanctioned events will greatly help the retention of new players. Support of formats like Commander is a great step in the right direction, but I still meet new players all too often who I know are in for a hard landing when pieces of their beloved deck rotate out and they are unfamiliar with the alternatives.

Beyond selling packs, I hope that Wizards has the good sense to always be looking for ways to foster the community better. Sometimes that will mean putting long-term sustainability over short-term gain. But Magic has existed for a long time and will hopefully exist for a lot longer.

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John Sweeney
John Sweeney is a terribly British man with a background in engineering. He writes long-form editorial content with analysis of gaming, games media and internet culture. He also does the occasional video game retrospective with a weekly column about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good measure. He also does most of our interviews for some reason, we have no idea why. A staunch supporter of free speech and consumer rights; skeptical of agenda driven media and suspicious of unaccoutable authority but always hopeful for change.