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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.

John SweeneyTrading Card GamesTraditional GamesMagic The GatheringIt’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…
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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.