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Jan 13, 2004 - Repetition in Magic


Another week, another article. Well, not really. I actually write my articles with no real time frame in mind. I’ll write two articles in a day, then none for three weeks. I write when the mood suits me, when I find something I feel passionate about enough to want to tell you all about it.


But I realized today I have some real weaknesses in my writing. I can't write about multiple topics. I can't do any kind of Week in Review or stream of consciousness writing in my articles. I do it a bit in my blog, but that's heavily unformatted and I don't think professional in the least because its well, my blog. When it comes to writing an article I want to make something you guys and gals will read. I pick a topic, and start writing, and if it doesn't end up big enough to be a full article, I toss it to the side and start again. A topic is either worth a full article, or not worth writing about in my opinion.


Well, one of my new years resolutions is to break that bad habit, well, in my own anal retentive, neat freak sort of way. From now on when I write something that doesn't end up full article size, I'll store it, and when I get enough of them to make a full length article, I'll figure out a way to wind them all together and give you a Grab Bag type article, and you guys can tell me if it's any good.


But that day will not be today.


Today I want to talk about repetition in gaming.  It’s a funny concept to think about in Magic. I remember vaguely an advertising push for Magic a while back that touted Magic as a game where “you never play the same game twice” or “no two games are the same” or something like that. It’s a funny idea when you think about it because, realistically, so many games are like that. Have you ever played two games of Monopoly that played out the same? How about Risk? Hearts?


Me neither.


However, I can count the number of times I have said “Mountain, Jackal Pup, Go” but I’d need a calculator to do it. 


I pick on the red deck, but its merely an easy example of a trend in parts of Magic; which is that some decks simply play a bit like solitaire, and are very repetitious. Combo decks do this a lot as well. You play to a certain game state, and the deck includes a lot of “4 of” and tutor cards to make the deck as simple and consistent as possible. Sligh is the king of this idea, making the deck very consistent and therefore also repetitious.


So, why do we play them? As gamers, doesn’t the idea of a boring, repetitious game not appeal to us?


Well, there are a three main reasons we do this sort of thing: Response, Interaction, and Reward.


First, we need to remember that Magic is, to most people, more than just a game. It’s a social event, and interaction and reaction is a big part of this game to most people. Using the above example, me going Mountain, Jackal Pup, Go, may be a boring event for me, but to my opponent it may not. So my interest is in seeing what an opponent will do in response to my first turn play, because that most likely will NOT be the same every time, and that part holds interest to me as a gamer. Will my opponent bitch at me for playing a “lame burn deck?” Will they nod knowingly and wink with the knowledge of playing the same deck before? Will they maintain a poker face and pretend my play doesn’t matter?


And they will respond at two levels, emotionally, as I just suggested, and in their “in-game” response. Will they come back with a Jackal Pup of their own? Will they Force of Will it? Will they play a creature with Protection from Red, or even worse a Circle of Protection: Red? The only way I’ll know is if I go out and play that “one more game” with the deck, even though it may be repetitious to me.


Even if its not really reaction based, the interaction part is still exciting as well. How many times have you sat down with a friend and played a game of Magic with the same decks you’ve both had for months? Its just a fun couple of decks you have and you like to play them, or maybe you each bought one of the World Champion decks from last year, and play them all the time for fun. By now, you know how the game is going to play out. You understand all the nuances of both decks, and it’s a safe bet you’ve probably played the decks so many times you probably HAVE played the exact same game twice with these decks. But that’s not the point when you sit down to play. The point is to hang out with your friend, and the game is just a way in which you chose to meet. It’s a conversation piece, nothing more or less. You get together to be with your friends, or to hang out somewhere, or just get away from your parents. Magic is just the medium.


Finally, we do it for reward. I had a short entry in my blog a few days ago, where I jokingly talked about how MUDs suffer from incredibly repetitious actions, and why people who fancy themselves gamers still do it anyways. (For those of you who don’t know, a MUD is a “Multi User Dungeon,” a sort of multi-player version of Zork where players fight monsters and gain levels and skills in a text based game. MUDs are the predecessors of MMORPGS like Everquest.)


For MUDs, you do these things for level gaining, and when you gain so many levels, you get new skills. So, as you progress, you have a feeling of accomplishment and goal reaching. The same goes for Magic. As you play, you get better and meet goals. In Magic, these vary greatly, which is what makes Magic a great game.


There’s the thrill of competition at multiple levels. Your next goal may be to win a Friday Night Magic. Then you can move up to winning a Grand Prix Trial, or a Pro Tour Qualifier. Then maybe your next goal is to make day two of a Pro Tour. These sort of goals and rewards (like the money of a Pro Tour, or even just the prestige of being a “Pro Tour Player”) encourage you to play the Sligh on Tinker match up hundreds of times to see what is different in what situations, and if the situations are the same how your reactions will change the game.


Even if you are not shooting for a high level win, often a gamer will play matches like this in the name of ”play testing” or “metagame analysis” where the real reward is knowledge. Or perhaps you write strategy articles for a Magic website, and do this sort of analysis for extra money. In any case, you have a reason to do something so repetitive, where, if you thought about it, you’d probably never do it.


So the next time you shuffle up for a game of Magic for the Elf Deck on Elf Deck match up, and you start to think to yourself how silly it is because the first Elvish Champion always wins this match up, and why are you bothering anyways since you’ve played this deck a hundred times before…


Don’t worry; you’re not alone.



Until next week, feel free to e-mail me at rayp at Have a great week!

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