Magic, CCGs, and ‘Mr. Suitcase’

Thinking about Magic: The Gathering today, I realized that there’s a clever mechanic to combat the ‘Mr. Suitcase’ problem, and it’s a mechanic which was one of the first to totally fail in Magic.

First, Mr. Suitcase: that’s the guy who comes to game night with a suitcase full of Magic cards. (It also comes from a simpler time, when a suitcase was an unimaginably large collection.) The guy with the decks filled with $40 rares and out-of-print promos.

So, the mechanic to fix that? Ante.

It used to be part of the core rules for Magic – not even a variant – that both players would put a random card from their deck up for ante. Win the game and the card is yours.

This deals with Mr. Suitcase in a few ways:

  • It balances decks across rarities. A deck filled with common cards may not be as powerful as a deck filled with rares, but you’re only going to lose a common if you lose the game. Winning one game out of 10 with a weak deck is still worth it if you score a good card from your victory.
  • It discourages the secondary market. If you pay $50 for a premium card, you might lose it in your next game.
  • It discourages decks built around one or two powerful cards, because there’s a chance that your core card will be pulled out of your deck before the game begins.
  • It creates an interesting opportunity for cards to interact with ante. There are cards like Contract from Below that give a massive benefit, but force you to ‘double down’ and add another card to your ante. Likewise, there are cards like Darkpact that allow you to remove your ante or replace it with a different card, but have no other effect. To some extent, this allows a beginner or a weak player to build a deck that is unlikely to win, but can avoid giving up valuable cards, while a skilled player can give themselves a handicap but claim extra cards if they win.

Those upsides are brought down by the massive downside that you risk losing your cards in every game. Once players started taking their collections seriously, ante was unacceptable.

I wonder if ante could be brought back in some form in a future game? It would make a very interesting long-form convention game; players would be given a deck at the start of the convention, and would play for ante throughout the con until the tournament on the final day.

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