Why We Play: Episode 1

Why we Play

Hi there, I’m Steven Hamonic- I’m an avid Magic player, I’ve been playing the game for
over 12 years, trying as many cards, decks, and formats as I can get my hands on- I even
helped invent one you might have heard of: Tiny Leaders. I love this game, I think it is one of the
best mental exercises and fun to play experiences to date… and I have a theory.
This theory is one I would invite you to think about for yourself: Magic is the most fun game.

Now I know this is not a complicated theory, but it goes deeper than you would expect- and that’s where I would like to start:

Can we prove that Magic: the Gathering is the most fun game ?

When I say prove, I don’t just mean to throw some opinions at you and expect you -the reader,
who likely already plays the game and enjoys it enough to read an article about it- to simply nod and agree, I’m going to throw some math at it, and see if we can really nail down an empirical answer as to how fun Magic really is.
The first concept I would like to introduce to you is the “Economics of Fun”: a way to find an
equation for how much fun you get out of a certain amount of money and time. This equation

will vary dramatically from person to person, and we’ll be working on analyzing it from the perspectives of different archetypes of players, levels of competition, and different Magic formats.

To start: let’s take an average AAA video game title, around $60.00 at release- say you really
enjoy it, you pour in 60 hours- this game is great. If you rate your fun out of 10, you get a 7, maybe an 8,
this is one of the best games you’ve played in years. Simple setup- $1 per Hour of
7/10 fun, a good metric of enjoyability. Nowadays with video games being mostly digital, it’s
difficult to lend them to your friends, and usually impossible to re-sell them. You’re never going

to get more fun out of your money unless you re-play the game; not something a lot of video games do well.

Now allow me to turn our equation onto a Friday Night Magic draft- $10 entry, 5 hours of
drafting/playing, and we’ll give it an 7/10 for fun as well, just to keep it simple. We’re spending
$2 an hour on the same level of fun, that doesn’t seem quite right, if Magic is supposed to be
themost fun game. I think we need to find more value here, see if we can’t get these numbers
to shake out a little more evenly. What is your time worth, in relation to fun and profit? If you make 15$ an hour working, and spend anywhere from $1 an hour playing a video game to $10 an hour going out for food and

drinks with friends, how much is your time worth? Is it the $15 an hour you could make if you were working? Or is it closer to the maximum you’d be comfortable spending for a certain amount of fun?

I would think the most fun thing you could do is worth ~$1000 an hour, a once in a lifetime
experience- like skydiving or, for less adrenaline fuelled folks, a many course meal with
expensive ingredients and drinks. Compare that to playing a long awaited video game (for me,
Fallout 4) where we’ll spend around $70 for about 70 hours of 8/10 fun (any more than that and
there’s a noticeable drop off in value, since you’ve just spent almost 3 days playing a video
game). Now say you can play a magic draft, Shadows Over Innistrad, one of my favourite sets

to draft in years, for $10. If you’re winning, you might rank your fun at an 8 for 5 hours, which is a manageable investment of time, but still $2 an hour.

One of the best things about Magic: the Gathering is in the name, it’s a gathering- people come
together to play with the cards, which gives each card a value in accordance with its playability
and power level. You’re a savvy FNM drafter, and you want to get the most value out of your
draft, so you’ll take that sweet $10 rare even if it doesn’t fit your deck, because your entry cost
$10, if you can sell that card for even half its face value, you just got half of the fun you paid for
for free, which brings your Money-In-Fun-Out balance to $1/1hour. For that, the only skill you
need is the ability to remember some prices, or just ask the table what a card is worth, you don’t
even need to win! Although- if winning is in the realm of possibility for you, say you go home
with that $10 card you opened and a Kaladesh booster? You just paid $10 for 5

hours of fun, a $10 card, and a $5 booster pack. You can even play mini-masters with a friend for that sweet 10 minutes of extra fun, or save your packs until you can draft with your friends!

The fact that Magic has a secondary market and prize support means you can easily get the fun
of playing the game and the value of trade able/ sell able cards to offset your input costs. I’m
going to explore the secondary market’s impact on the fun of the game in later articles, but I do
have to say- without the secondary market, Magic would not exist in the same format it does
today, and I think the game would be significantly less fun than its current form.
Magic has versatility in how you play, how you enjoy the game, and how you spend your
money- which leads to a complex answer to the question “Is Magic: the Gathering the most fun
game?” I invite you to follow me on this journey, where we’ll attempt to figure out how Johnny,
Spike, Timmy, Vorthos; Draft, EDH, Standard, and everything in between; Magic Online, Magic
Duels, and Paper Magic; even Kitchen Table, Friday Night Magic, Grand Prix, and Pro Tour levels of play all shake out in our “Economics of Fun” model.

Until next time,

Steven Hamonic

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