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Baneful's Column
Yu-Gi-Oh! vs. Magic the Gathering
January 8, 2014

How do you compare, the two most highly successful card games, such Yu-Gi-Oh as Magic: The Gathering with each other? Well, how do you not? To begin, MTG began in 1993 and became the world's first official collectible card game (CCG). Every single CCG out there owes thanks to it, especially as most of them borrow it's mechanics. YGO came out in 2002 but caught up to MTG quickly nonetheless. Aside from Pokemon, no other card game has come close to their level of success, so perhaps a contest between the two isn't all that irrelevant.

It's the Tupac Shakur vs. Notorious B.I.G. of card games. Or, more precisely, it's the Coke vs Pepsi of card games. Much like in a political campaign where the older politician touts experience while the younger one touts fresh new ideas, Magic: the Gathering has history and tradition to it. YGO established itself as the new craze. In many ways their marketing is different. YGO was a massive franchise that used television as it's main source of promotion. There was also lots of video games, merchandise, clothing and accessories for it. YGO had the delicate middle ground as it's media was moreso an extension of the card game than it's card game being an extension of the media, like Pokemon. Yes, MTG still had a market outside of the cards and tournaments themselves, but not that much, as it relied on word of mouth. This difference cemented what the two would become and would represent.

YGO emphasizes accessibility (a.k.a. you hear about it and jump right in) whereas MTG emphasizes you taking initiative and learning the mechanics in detail before you join. YGO only has an easy-to-follow forbidden/limit list and only 2 formats. MTG has multiple different formats (including set rotations as one of the main ones), a requirement that you must use lands (often they are near-half your entire deck) and color restrictions. In YGO, you can make a deck with monsters of all types; in MTG you can't. Konami intended YGO to be a game where you can just amass a bunch of cards, build a deck and duel immediately without roadblocks. It may be a bad one, but you could still do it. MTG makes you do more homework on the matter.

There are key differences in mechanics. MTG is slow and methodical, whereas YGO is fast-paced, sometimes insanely imbalanced, but often explosive. YGO uses monsters as damage-absorbing sponges whereas MTG lets you strategically take damage to protect creatures which give you an advantage in the long-run. MTG requires resources called mana, which was excellent foresight compared to what YGO has become today. YGO has become a game of attrition due to hand advantage being able to fuel field advantage rather than the two being at odds with each other.

An overpowered card like Pot of Greed (Sign In Blood) in MTG isn't that much of a because drawing those cards meant you couldn't summon as much. Without the finer distinctions (1 mana vs 2 or 3 mana), YGO has been forced to impose punitive costs without smaller increments allowed. Tributing two monsters is way too much, but tributing one might make it a bit easy. The card Rising Energy is a good example. It would have been an overpowered card without a discard, but it's a horrible card with it. Lack of a meaningful cost system has plagued YGO as cards have become more powerful.

Needless to say, both games have carved out their niche. It's been the perception (at least from what I've observed) that MTG is a more mature sophisticated game, but YGO is the insanely fun (and often immature) one. Perhaps this could have something to do with the fan bases. The latter seems to carry in more adults and YGO tends to carry more adolescents. But that perhaps has changed over time as the histories of the two have moved closer to each other. MTG started earlier and has maintained it's success, constantly getting an influx of more players. YGO started later but exploded as a fad and national phenomenon for kids. After the fad left, people who remained in love with it's mechanics like me still stayed. The original players grew into adults, new adults are learning to play YGO and kids looking for fads these days are finding new things to do.

So, who wins. By influence and prestige, Magic. By cultural phenomenon and sales, Yu-Gi-Oh!. MTG as a card game; YGO as a franchise. As for mechanics, that's purely up to you. It's easy to be biased toward MTG because "well, it's tradition..." but it also has strong balanced mechanics that help it maintain it's success. YGO is less balanced for sure, but some may find the chaotic and less stable nature of it more fun for them.  Also, we might want to look at this 10 years from now. Don't get me wrong; YGO is quite enduring. In 2005, I said the game will end for good very soon. In 2010, I said the same thing. Now, I wouldn't be surprised if it kept going until 2020 onward. CCG's are quite young, being only 20 years old. They were invented before high-speed internet and smart-phones, so who knows whether they will adapt to technology or become a fad. But if I had to predict, I would stay MTG has what it takes to stay strong for the long run.

There will be new challengers who go up against MTG and may dominate for a little while, but how enduring they will be or how consistent they will be is doubtful. CCG's are competitive industry, and with two highly dominant games at the top, it's hard to compete. Games like Cardfight Vanguard have found their niche, so they're always hope. It may prove more difficult for YGO to maintain it's relevance, let's say if a television network cancels the show, but for now it's too soon to predict long term trends. Let's just take it day-by-day.

Contact: banefulscolumn@gmail.com




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