experience – noun : an event or occurrence that leaves an impression on someone
You see it rather frequently: a new player posts on a Magic-related subreddit announcing they’ve recently discovered Magic and are looking for suggestions on what to buy next. Inevitably there are numerous variations of this same reply: “don’t waste your money on packs – buy singles.”
Why would anyone suggest a new player with an extremely limited understanding of the game or its cards skip boosters in favor of singles? They won’t know what to buy. It’s not as if a person who likes green creatures is choosing from a couple different options. There are thousands of choices spanning more than two decades of sets, and some of those green creatures come with price tags a new player won’t understand or be willing to pay.
I could be wrong about this, but I sincerely don’t think I am: the majority of people who got into Magic, maybe even the vast majority, did so through buying packs, building weak, unfocused decks, and expanding their knowledge of the game over time. Perhaps you have a story about that one guy who played his buddy’s Modern deck, fell in love with the game, and immediately started buying singles to make a similar deck. Or maybe you know someone who bought a bundle and made a deck from it, played it enough to get hooked, and immediately understood that packs are a colossal waste and started buying up specific cards they researched or friends told them to get.
Those sorts of stories surely exist, and might be cute anecdotes. But I don’t believe for a second that they’re representative of even 5% of the people who regularly play Magic. Because that’s just not how most people pick up the game. As an older guy who’s watching his son slowly get more and more into Magic, I can say with 100% surety that it’s packs that are fueling his interest. For the first 18 months he played Magic he’d happily open a bundle or a prelease kit, assemble a basic deck from it, and play a few games with me. And then those cards would languish unused on the kitchen table until I made him move them. I couldn’t get him to sit back down and play more games with me.
That is, until a new set would release. I’d give him a prerelease kit of that set and he’d be totally into Magic for a few hours, and jabber about it ceaselessly for a while after the games ended. The next day, Magic occupied the same brainspace as cleaning the cat litter.
I didn’t get it – the kid likes games of all sorts, loves fantasy, and has been collecting Pokemon cards for years. Why was his interest in Magic so fleeting? I wondered if I needed to stop trying to encourage him to play and just accept that his interests lay elsewhere.
A few months ago I decided to try one final time to see if Magic could stick with him. And I did that with…(what else)…packs.
First it was a Kaldheim prerelease kit. He liked the new cards, seemed to like the set, and genuinely seemed to enjoy the games we played. And within a few days, all interest seemed extinguished – as had happened multiple times before. So I made him an offer: build a new deck from his full collection, play some more Magic with me, and we’d open some Kaldheim Set and Collector boosters as “prize packs.” He claimed interest, and then for over a week repeatedly told me he’d build his new deck “soon” when I asked how the process was going. Out of desperation, I tore the plastic wrap off the Collector box, took a couple packs out, and set them, and a couple Set boosters, on the kitchen table next to where he eats.
That evening his new deck was built.
The Power of Packs™.
His first Kaldheim Collector booster coughed up an extended art Goldspan Dragon, and he was hooked. We’ve played at least once a week ever since. Sometimes the prize packs are draft boosters from older sets, sometimes they’re Set boosters, and sometimes, as they were for several weeks as I built up his interest, they’re Collector boosters. About a month ago these were Collector packs from Strixhaven. The kid got an etched Approach of the Second Sun, extended art Quandrix dean, foil copy of the only mythic lesson in STX, and a foil Japanese Mystical Archive Opt. He was thrilled.
I hear it already. “That’s the best stuff from his Collector booster? What a waste of money.” If that’s how you see it, fine.
But maybe…and hear me out here…maybe packs don’t have to be purely financial investments with returns measured strictly in expected value. Maybe – as stated above – opening a pack gets to be an experience. The kid doesn’t know what the financial value of the cards he opened is. He was stoked to get cool cards with cool and/or shiny art. We opened STX Set boosters last night as well, and his contained a borderless Rowan, Scholar of Sparks/Will, Scholar of Frost in addition to the regular rare. The kid is quite stoic and unemotional overall, but his eyes got big when he saw it. I’ll surely forget that moment someday in the future, but for now that gets to be a cool memory that I’ll treasure for as long as I can picture it.
And for what it’s worth, my STX Collector booster had a Japanese etched Tainted Pact, extended art Octavia, Living Thesis, and my own copy of the borderless Rowan/Will. You pays your money and you takes your chances.
So maybe you’re thinking all of the above is fine for a new player. Let them wallow in naive ignorance for awhile, until they wise up and realize what a scam packs really are. Let’s instead consider someone like me – a veteran of the game with a sizeable collection. Why would I blow my money on packs when I can just buy the singles I want?
Before I get into that, I want to point out that when I play with my son, I use a small portion of my overall collection – just what I’ve opened since Christmas. We’ve each built 5 or so decks since February, and the kid is working with his entire collection – 3-4 times as many cards as I am. As we open packs, some of the cards we find trickle out into our decks, or (at least in my case) start building the foundation of decks I want to assemble but aren’t yet fully formed.
A-ha! Perfect time to just buy singles, right? I’d love a few more good cards for a Prismari deck, and there’s no way to know if I’ll ever open them in boosters. Why not just buy the singles?
To which I will answer with my first point about why opening packs is fine and fun:
Another reason boosters can be a fun experience:
If you go to a casino, do you scoff at people pumping quarters (or more) into slot machines, as you sit down to play a game that involves some skill like blackjack or poker? Do you scoff at the very idea of setting foot in a casino in the first place? Fair enough.
Opening a booster is a gamble. And just as in Vegas, the house usually wins. I’m not much for gambling, but I’ve played some slots when my wife wants to go to the casino, and had fun doing it. We rarely walk away richer than we arrived, but it’s an afternoon together – an experience we share that occasionally even rewards us with a free dinner that evening.
As a casual Magic player who doesn’t need or want to optimize anything I play, a pack with a 30-cent rare is not a total waste. A disappointment? Probably. But I may still have uses for it, or some of the other cards in the pack. Maybe I’ll even be inspired to try and make some janky rare work. One of my all-time favorite decks was built because I opened a couple copies of Hibernation’s End and wondered if I could build a deck around it.
If you’re different – if you have no interest or use for the majority of a set’s cards, or don’t find any joy in rolling the dice (or pulling a lever), then packs aren’t for you. That’s fine. But don’t talk to others like your choice is better or more sensible than theirs.
Cracking packs is a legitimate, and exceptionally popular, way to engage with Magic. Wizards of the Coast has always known this, and has recently built products specifically designed for the millions of players who like to do it. Scoff if you will, rant if you must, but all those singles you’re buying exist because someone, somewhere, opened a pack. And odds are, they didn’t do it while drafting.