Magic The Gathering and Lifestyle Design

When I was in my late teens, I got sucked into a game called Magic [The Gathering]. I’ll just presume you already have some familiarity with the game. At first I resisted because it seemed to require a lot of money in order to play but soon everybody was playing and so I started too.

Eventually I found myself disenchanted with the game. I was playing a combination of black and blue and I always seemed to be losing to people who had better and rarer cards than I had. I didn’t really see myself as improving my relative position unless I began to spend a lot of money either buying booster packs and hoping for the best or buying them outright at $5 or $10 a piece from the local card pusher.

Back then nobody I played with really seemed to have any kind of deck design strategy other than picking a few colors and including the biggest and most powerful cards they had.

Most games would be very long. Not much would happen during the first 4 rounds as people were putting down lands in order to summon their first mega monster. After that it was a half hour accumulation of a giant army.

Does this sound familiar? Keeping up with the Joneses? Bigger and better?

One evening after I was just about to give up on the game, I decided to divide my blue-black deck. It happened to be about 110 cards total, so I had to add some land to make it 60 cards.

And then I started winning! The game was fun again.

Having more land allowed me to summon forces faster. I was no longer stuck waiting for resources much like a middle-class consumer is stuck waiting for money because everything he owns is too large or too costly. Since I was using almost all my black cards, I also had to include lighter footprint creatures which turned out to be a blessing. I was dealing out 5-10 points of damage (20 points and you win the game) before my friends even got a creature in play.

This was a light bulb moment and I began to pay a lot more attention to the deck design strategy: what worked together with what? what was the ideal land/spell/creature mix? could I put something together that had more than one theme in case my main theme failed. I spent hours dry-running designs (that’s the MTG equivalent of studying chess openings).

At one point the deck got so good that my regular playing partners didn’t think I was fun to play with anymore. The deck which was worth about $50 if you had to buy the cards from a pusher was even offering fighting resistance to tournament decks. I then started making decks out of common cards. These are typically less powerful and abundantly available. I was still doing okay with that.

There’s a lesson to be learned here.

Strategy beats “technology” every time. Having ready resources like land (money) is much better than having large creatures (house, car) which are unwieldy. Having a huge deck (lots of stuff) is very detrimental because it reduces control. Having too much stuff takes away attention from the enemy (living your life) because the entire focus is on maintaining and trying to summon your forces (paying the bills). Using a systems thinking approach to ensure resilience is a successful strategy—if one thing doesn’t work, another will.

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Originally posted 2011-09-30 18:52:49.