Once you reach a certain age, dollars and cents come play a bigger role in life’s decisions. For Irfan Rawi, that means watching what he spends on his childhood game Magic: the Gathering. With two young toddlers in tow, gone are the days are spending hundred of dollars for each new set release. It’s bad enough that the game has the unenviable reputation of being an expensive hobby.
But today’s interconnected world has also made the game cheaper through online platforms like Arena, and the older Magic Online. On the digital plane, anyone can play with another player across the globe and doesn’t have to break the bank doing so. How did Irfan transition from being a paper fanboy who couldn’t stop himself buying booster packs to an online-only spell caster?
What yo you o for work and play when you’re not casting spells and Planeswalking?
I am a Network and Voice Engineer with a packaging manufacturing company. Most of the time when I’m not playing MTG, I’m usually out of the house spending time with my wife and kids. Apart from that I do play other games on my PS4 and PC though I will always make time for Magic Arena.
Tell us about your Magic playing history. When and how did you start, what formats do you play?
I first started playing Magic when I was primary 5 back in 2003, during the Onslaught block, I think Legions set had just been released. Back then I wasn’t playing MTG, but Pokemon and WWF. A friend of mine introduced me to MTG and I got hooked. I still remember my first booster pack from World of JJ at Choa Chu Kang MRT. The very first Rare I ever pulled was a Brood Sliver. That ended up being my favourite creature type ever since.
Back then my playgroup never really played a fixed format. We were kids with the most basic knowledge of MTG. So whatever card we pulled from boosters ended up in our decks. Terms like format, meta, competitive just wasn’t in our dictionary. We simply played for fun with what little we could afford.
I went on a hiatus from MTG around 2006, just before Guildpact was released. By then most of my playgroup had already stopped playing MTG and constantly buying packs from new sets was unsustainable for a secondary school student. While I did update myself on new set releases and such, I never really bought a booster or played a game of Magic.
It wasn’t until 2012, just after I enlisted into NS, that I learnt about MTG Online (MTGO) and started playing Magic again but online this time. By this time MTG Online had been around for at least 10 years (it was originally released in 2002). This opened my eyes to other formats such as Commander (which is my favourite format), and later on, Pauper and Penny Dreadful (currently Penny is a MTGO-only format). I stopped playing Magic again in 2016 because of commitments that simply did not allow for me to spend time and money playing a game I loved. I then heard of Magic Arena in 2018. When it was finally available for open beta, I quickly downloaded it and have been playing ever since.
Why did you decide to commit to MTG Online and Arena? What’s good about it over paper?
I would consider Arena to be the near perfect platform to play Magic. Its user interface is much more refined compared to MTG Online and its also essentially free-to-play. Of course, with all free-to-play games, there is the pay-to-win option, but even without paying money to get Gems to buy boosters, you can still build yourself an enjoyable deck and still be able to get to at least Gold rank.
That doesn’t mean Arena is without flaws though. Unlike Paper and MTG Online, you can’t play a game of Commander, Pauper is limited to in-game events and Brawl format just feels lacking. Not to mention the lack of cards in-game, since we’re limited from Kaladesh to the upcoming Strixhaven.
However, overall Arena is the simplest way for any new player to get into Magic. In Paper and MTG Online (Online is still cheaper that Paper), you’d probably be spending hundreds just to build a competitive deck as compared to Arena which already provides you with viable starter decks which you can upgrade by earning gold to buy boosters if you’re free to play.
This is why Arena is my go-to platform for playing Standard, while MTG Online is my preferred platform for Commander and I stopped playing Paper altogether.
Even though you don’t play paper anymore, you still buy plenty of Secret Lair drops. What about them that appeals to you?
While I don’t play paper anymore, I still enjoy collecting the cards. I don’t really have any interest in cracking packs for Masterpieces or Showcase cards, but I feel Secret Lair is different. It allows me to buy drops which includes cards that I like, or cards that I have use for in Commander. This is especially important as each Drop comes with its own MTG Online redemption code which gives me a digital copy of the card as well.
So for instance, Teferi’s Protection costs slightly more than US$40 as per MTGGoldFish for the physical card and around 15 tix (US$15) on Cardhoarder. So it’ll cost me US$55 to get both card versions. With Secret Lair Extra Life 2020 which includes that card, it costs me US$60 (shipping excluded) to get that card in physical and digital, along with Collected Company, Consecrated Sphinx and Amulet of Vigor, all in alternate art. So this is both a collector and economic decision.
Since you have kids, what do you think about MTG as a learning tool for young children growing up?
Back when I was a kid myself, Magic did teach me a lot such as resource management, time management and having a good poker face. It also improved my ability to make calculations on the fly. So hopefully when my kids are at the age when they can understand Magic, they’d also enjoy playing and learning.
I also think that Magic will inspire kids with artistic talents as well. I mean look at the art on most of the cards. While I might have the artistic talent of a doorknob, even I can appreciate the beautiful artwork on the face of those cards. Magic essentially is a game which blends Arts, Statistics, Math, Probability and Logical Thinking, which I think would definitely help kids to learn. In the end, even if they don’t pick up on any of that, they would definitely learn about money management in order to buy booster packs. I know I did. Countless times I had to forgo eating during recess to be able to afford that Scourge booster pack hoping to crack a Sliver Overlord.
In your opinion, what are the ugliest aspects of the game?
One of the ugliest aspects of Magic would probably be the price of the game. This especially applies to paper Magic. While I am not saying that MTG Online is inexpensive, it is still relatively cheaper than paper. And while it is true that Arena is a free-to-play game, you’d probably still need to spend some money in order to get the full experience.
Paper Standard is the worst offender because of the secondary market for singles. While I understand that this can’t be helped due to demand and supply, I feel that excessive speculation on card value is unhealthy. I see more and more people are going the way of Alpha Investments (a Youtuber who invests on Magic Booster boxes) which would drive the prices of cards up, out of reach of most players, which was why I went into Arena.
Have there been any good experiences from the Magic community?
My only exposure to the MTG community was recently through the MTG Arena Singapore Facebook group. They’re truly a great bunch of people. It’s nice to be able to play with other people, especially during the Covid-19 period. The content creators on the group are truly great because they not only entertain, but also give deck building ideas. This is my first time as a part of a community and it’s truly a blessing.
Which MTG cards would be in your very own “Signature Spellbook?”
First card is simple – Sliver Overlord was my Holy Grail card since primary school.
Next would be Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, the one of my two favourite Planeswalkers of all time (the other one being Urza). Both their lore are highly entertaining.
Apocalypse for when you absolutely have to clear the board.
Teferi’s Protection because why clear off your own board?
Time Warp because why let them have a turn?