Magic is an extraordinarily deep and rewarding card game, but aspects of it have always felt uncomfortable. After investing thousands of dollars and years of my life into the game, I've finally sold all my cards.

My relationship with Magic

For context, please see the complete collection of cards I sold. My collection's value was estimated at $3,248.39, with 1,638 rares/mythics and high-dollar items like Snapcaster Mage, a foil Marchesa, the Black Rose, and notably 16 copies of Sol Ring.

I made new friends attending pre-releases, strengthened my relationships with old friends, and gifted people many Commander sets for their birthdays. I lived and breathed Magic, spending countless hours building decks and playing with friends through the night. I even became an official Rules Advisor, after studying the game's 231-page Comprehensive Rules for several weeks and then passing the exam.

My binder of rares/mythics, 18 cards per page

Deck-building is a boundless form of creative expression. A turing complete computer has been implemented in Magic, meaning you can create a board-state capable of performing arbitrary computations. It's stuff like this that gets the dopamine rushing, thus motivating the game's passionate and generous community. It's no wonder people LOVE this game.

Magic's dark side

Over time I began to learn that there's a darker side to Magic, too. The game is known among players as cardboard crack, a cheeky reference to the game's addictive nature and associated financial cost. This is usually just a joke, and countless people claim that Magic has actually helped them quit actual hard drugs like heroin or even saved them from suicide.

Surely an addiction to a card game is better than an addiction to heroin or death, but let's not downplay the addiction to the game, either. Buying packs of randomized cards has been compared to gambling, and some people are forced to quit the game to save their relationship.

In Jason Alam's story, I Won't Lose My Second Wife: Quitting Magic, he explains that:

Over time, my addiction grew. At its worst, I was spending $1500 a month on them. Then disaster struck. I was told that if I wanted my wife to stay happy, the cards gotta go. They went. However, so did she. And my job as well.
[...]
I moved back to Oklahoma and started dating Natasha [...] I lied to buy cards. I hid money to buy cards. I was a really bad man. Then I came clean to my wife and told her everything. She was really hurt that I had broken her trust like that.
[...]
So with a glad heart I am selling my cards. Goodbye, addiction! Let me be free.

A quick search for "magic the gathering" on /r/relationships reveals a trend: people fight about this game. It's an immense source of financial stress for some people, and sometimes it can cost a person their relationship.

You might not be addicted to Magic. Maybe these problems don't apply to you, but for the people affected it is a very real issue that runs deeper than an internet joke. Most people can find a balance, but some can't. Is that your problem? Maybe not, but if you could do something about it, would you?

In 2012 two Magic players broke into a man's home and beat him to death so they could steal his Black Lotus. We cannot blame the cards for these men's actions. Nevertheless, the villains chose to go after Magic cards. Why? Maybe it was a low-hanging fruit, or perhaps it meant something more to them. After all, it wasn't gold or jewels; it was a piece of cardboard with a picture printed on it. Anyone with a nice printer could make a copy at home.

The real problem

Copying cards is taboo, and in some cases illegal. Wizards of the Coast surely doesn't want you to make your own copies. If you did, perhaps you wouldn't pay them. This is great for Wizards of the Coast, but is it good for society overall? Personally, I don't think it is.

This is worsened by the fact that many players police others for using proxies (homemade copies of cards). Using proxies is looked down upon, and some players will refuse to play if their opponent has any proxies. Card scarcity, the hunt for rare cards, and the booster-pack gamble are all considered part of the game. Some players want to force others to engage in this even if it's harmful to them. This was the first red flag I encountered, as it positions Wizards of the Coast as the almighty authority over cards. I don't like dogma, and I feel like some players have forgotten that cards are just printed pieces of paper.

Anyone could print their own, yet we're complicit in a circumstance where a man was beaten to death over a piece of paper because as a community we deem that card to be worth $10,000 because it was printed by a specific corporation (Wizards), and somehow that has meaning to us. Perhaps gold is just as meaningless, but at least you can't print gold from your inkjet at home, save alchemy. Magic cards are considered scarce not because of their material qualities but because copyright law has been moralized and is enforced by both Wizards and its fans.

I see Magic's problems as systemic, but most players would rather not think about it like that. They view these problems as they do car crashes: tragedies that could not have been prevented. Yet when we adopt a zero-tolerance mindset (as with plane crashes) it turns out there's actually a lot we can prevent.

So here's my appeal to you: let people copy. People are going broke, ending their relationships, and being murdered because of artificial scarcity. It is scarcity that is totally imagined and does not truly exist: anyone can print these cards. At the very least, stop shaming people for copying cards. Those cards are no more "real" than any other just because Wizards Corporation did not give it their official blessing. Ignoring the material reality in favor of a higher authority is a religious mode of thinking.

I chose to go a step further and give up Magic entirely. It was necessary for me, albeit painful. I felt a sense of legitimate loss giving up something so dear to me, but ultimately I was even more enraged. Magic the Gathering had beguiled me by presenting its papery misery with the facade of a fun game.

Moving on to something better

A game of Arcmage

I stopped playing Magic, but waited a year to sell my cards just to be sure. The spark that made me finally do it was Arcmage, a game that promised to fill the hole in my heart without carrying any of Magic's baggage. Arcmage is a public project which anyone is encouraged to derive, contribute to, and play for free. Rather than copyright, they've chosen to embrace copyleft, granting all players the legal right to copy and share the cards for any purpose (even commercially).

The project is lead by Nico Goeminne, and it has an active community of creators and players who have worked hard to create a box set called Rebirth with 285 cards (6 decks) including original art by Santi Iborra. You can print the cards yourself, or pay the Arcmage team to manufacture you a high-quality version for $25. Notably, they don't even take a profit.

When I learned about this project, only two of the decks were complete. I contacted Nico and told him that I wanted to sell my Magic cards to help fund Arcmage. Nico put me in touch with Santi who began sending us awesome sketches. I sold my cards and paid him, and now these cards are available to all for free.

Mounted Eagle from the Brothers in Arms deck by Santi Iborra, CC BY-SA 4.0

Arcmage is still in its early stages. It doesn't benefit from Magic's two decades worth of cards. It does feel noticeably more limited. But you know what? You can make your own cards. At least with this game, if you have an issue with it you can do something about it.

Despite its limitations, I consider it a great success. It's a unique and fun experience that I've enjoyed playing with my friends. It feels very similar to Magic, but it deals with mana (lands) differently and has a concept of destroying your opponent's cities to win rather than attacking their life. I'm celebrating the box-set release, and I look forward to what Arcmage players will accomplish in the future.

Prototype Rebirth box by Nico

At the time of writing, Santi asks for a humble 35 euros to create a piece of artwork for an Arcmage card. The way I saw it, I could exchange 1 copy of Snapcaster Mage to give the whole world infinite copies of a brand new Arcmage card (and I'd still have $20 left). This is a strictly better transaction in my view. Amplify that by my whole collection, and now we have 4 new Arcmage decks and plenty of money still left in the bank. Nico put some money down, too (as well as a lot of time and love).

You don't have to agree with me, nor do you have to do what I did. But if any of this rings true to you, and you wish to see a collectible card game reimagined to solve these problems, you could always sell your Magic cards to fund Arcmage. I did, and I don't regret my decision one bit.