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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.

Magic The Gathering’s Battle for Zendikar Spoilers: Multiple Cycles of LandsPresent in Set
Magic the Gathering on a Budget: Getting the Right Mana Base
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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.