Old Timer's Disease
I started playing Magic in February of 1995 after a friend of mine had mentioned the game to be a few times. For over four years I collected the cards, played the game, and had a good time. It was my main interest. I played in several tournaments including the JSS Eastern Division 1999, and won a fair amount of the time (not at the JSS, unfortunately.) I even went as far as to start a club at my high school where people could play after school. Everything was great, and life seemed like it couldn't be any better.
Flash forward to today. I'm a freshman at the State University of Stony Brook. Things are still pretty good but after the JSS I had taken a break from Magic. It's been a few months since I've really played the game. I've missed out of Urza's Destiny and Mercadian Masques, for the most part. I am starting to get back into the game but it's very tough. I want to be able to compete in today's type 2 environment but it's going to be tough. I am getting what you may call old timer's disease.
[Begin Wakefield style rant]
Why are PTQ's sometimes held in the middle of nowhere? I went to a PTQ yesterday, 11/27/99, with Zev, Toby and Mark. It was Mercadian Masques sealed, and I had a lot of fun. I got to play Dave Bachmann and watch Zev win two drafts. I am starting to learn what the new cards do. It was great. Half the fun was getting there. These places are in the middle of nowhere, though! You drive through about 150 miles of farmland without any sign of civilization. Then suddenly a hotel appears and there are Magic players in it. Am I the only one (besides Toby) who notices this?
[End Wakefield style rant]
When I say old timer's disease, I mean looking back at the way Magic has changed in my absence. A new tournament environment has emerged and hundreds of new cards have been released. I am in the process of learning the new cards and environment. I have to first learn what the cards do, and then I have to learn which ones are being used in the environment so I know what I'm up against. This means learning a completely different metagame and adjusting to it.
For the longest time people have complained about sets being released way too often. I agree to a great extent with this statement. That way being out of the game for a month or two, or even three, wouldn't be such a big deal like it is to me. Things still would change: you'd have a card banned (cards being banned monthly is a good thing!) and a new deck emerged, but that's a good thing! The environment needs to change slowly, not rapidly and unexpectedly. One 300-card set once a year with no expansions would be a great way to do this. I am not suggesting that it definitely should be done, but it would be a great way to increase player retention rates.
If it is not hard enough for an existing player to stay current, think about how hard it is for new players! The average new player would have to spend a couple months moving up the learning curve before he could even have a chance to win a type 2 game against the average tournament player. It is very difficult for a new player to become a tournament level player. Yet many would like to, and don't have the time to invest. People should be able to learn what the cards do and be able to still use that knowledge a couple months down the road without having to re-learn everything again. This is not only a great discouragement to existing players, but as I have pointed out, to new players as well.
Magic does not take a great financial investment if you want to be a tournament player. Some will argue and they are right, assuming that you mean "Magic takes a great investment for me." Of course you need some rares but compare the cost to Warhammer. The financial problem is with the new sets introducing new deck types. A deck may become obsolete and require a new deck to be used. The tournament enviornment is very volatile.
The problem is not so much in the money, though. The problem is in the time. Think about all the time commitments Magic demands. The monetary demands are card purchases, tournament entry fee, and transportation. The tournament fee is all it really comes to, though. If you have a friend that plays you can borrow a deck from him and get a ride, often. More often that not the tournament entry fee is the only expense and it's trivial for the most part. Assuming you can borrow cards and a ride, the only investment problem is time.
What I mean by a time investment is the time you take to learn what all the cards do, the time you take to analyze which cards are good and which weak, the time you use to construct decks and playtest, the time you take to brainstorm new ideas and read news on the Dojo, and the time you need to play the game itself. Magic is very demanding as far as time goes. What I am suggesting is that if we only had one set a year to deal with, we would get a lot of good out of it.
With one set a year, a lot of new prospective players would be more delighted knowing that their cards would be useful for awhile. They'd know that the time commitment wouldn't be as great and the knowledge they've learned could be reapplied later down the road.
To amateur players who avoid tournaments, some would reconsider the idea of staying in the circuit. Being able to stay current and in the know wouldn't be as tough. It would still ask for a commitment but not as large of one. The pros would still have to work to be pros. The average non-tournament player would be able to become an average tournament player more easily, though. At that point he or she would be able to progress up the learning curve. This would just allow him or her to get a kickstart and stay motivated.
To older players who've quit (and boy are they are a lot of them!) they'd be able to start playing again more readily. My cousin used to play Magic and hasn't been able to for awhile because of school. With winter break, maybe he'd like to play again. If he buys the cards, though, they won't be as useful by themselves in the summer, though. I want him to start playing again like I'm about to do but it doesn't look like he is going to.
The moral of the story: stop printing so many damn cards. I know it's been said ten thousand times but I really mean it. One or two sets a year is all we need. Let them stay in the enviornment for another year, anything would be better. Don't make people like me who've played for four years and then taken a short break suffer from old timer's disease at such a young age.