A Defense of Magic: The Gathering’s F.I.R.E. Philosophy
The F.I.R.E. Philosophy Is Not As Bad As They Say
The way Magic: The Gathering plays is different now. The new cards have resulted in, yes, bans, but also a newer feel to a lot of average games. Most rounds (especially Bof1) are, as a whole, skewing towards a more Modern or Legacy pace, and, while some people may not like that, I do. And, as a happy and average player, I want to describe the appeal of the F.I.R.E. (“fun,” “inviting,” “replayable,” and “exciting”) philosophy.
And no, before someone even thinks it, it’s not because the game takes less skill now. Magic is still one of the most complicated games on the planet. If you have ever seen pros play, they are terrifyingly better with the same decks anyone can use.
Magic Cards Are Not Just Powerful By Themselves
No, it’s because the new cards and new styles of decks bring a lethality to play that makes games tenser. If you misplay even a little, you lose fast, often dying in a few turns. And that also means players can win in blazes of glory. I play Temur Ramp most of the time lately, and that deck can essentially end a game on turn five with an Ultimatum.
And that is fun to do. It feels powerful. I know that Magic is correctly compared to chess more often than, say, World of Warcraft, but it’s also a fantasy game. And don’t get me wrong, I love subtlety at high levels of play, but Magic is also a game where people want to feel like they are using magic. They want to feel they are casting spells, and that they can make big things happen.
Magic Games Should Feel Like Playing With Magic
The F.I.R.E. philosophy has succeeded, more or less, in allowing both strategy and bombast. You can have two players wielding nearly instant-kill decks, staring each other down. The strategy present is navigating around the dangers of a wrong move at the wrong time. It’s a dance of not giving the opponent enough of an opening to lob a lethal fireball—while prepping your own. The problem that arises and what requires bans is more often issues of making these fireballs too fast to achieve. That’s where it’s a spoilsport moment. If every deck can do it by turn five, but one can do it by turn three, then you do have an issue.
This is also likely why control decks are not seen as often in Standard and do seem actively pushed away. We do however get tempo or flashy quicker versions of the same thing—and that’s better. Why? Because, and I’m sure many people can attest to this: fighting a hard control deck and dying slowly is not any fun. It’s infuriating.
Grindy Magic Is Not Much Fun For Average Players
But dying to big splashy decks is at least a spectacle. Even the Standard tempo decks have spectacle. Dimir Rogues can sometimes be the un-fun control deck, but it can also kill someone by milling them with crabs and weird revival tricks.
It’s not like old Magic in some ways, but it’s not bad. Magic is more accessible now, and the appeal of it is more apparent for new players. It’s arguably the same reason people gravitated to Commander: you can do big, splashy, entertaining things, and so can everyone else. Those moments of infinite combos and chugging through half your deck in one turn can occur naturally more often with the F.I.R.E. philosophy.
Magic has to compete with regular video games like Call of Duty, along with so many clones always trying to steal players. They had to change to a more spectator sport style if they wanted to grow in a landscape where Twitch is important. And I don’t have an issue with how they achieved that.
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