Why do People Quit Magic the Gathering?

John offers his thoughts on why some folks quit Magic the Gathering, and offers suggestions on what players and Wizards of the Coast can do to improve things

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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.

The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent below.
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.
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