Just to be clear, I’m talking about tabletop TCGs, not digital.
TCGs are the most popular tabletop getaway for gamers and casual players alike. Be it from casually playing among friends to huge international tournaments, TCGs are an integral part of the gaming world.
But are they worth getting into? Should you play any TCG, whether casually or competitively? Let’s start with:
Table of Contents
TCG stands for Trading Card Game, which means that TCGs are practically that; a card game.
Usually, the company that releases new cards will release them in the form of Booster Packs, which contain a number of cards.
Usual gimmicks include different rarities among cards, different playstyles and deck archetypes and some preset rules like number of cards in a deck or maximum number of the same cards in any deck.
If there are different rarities, then Booster Packs will probably feature a chance to get some of the limited copies of the rarest card(s) of the set.
Usually, there are more expensive and quite larger packs that aim at helping newer players build a deck. These usually contain a preset basic deck of some specific playstyle or archetype.
These packs have some great individual cards that can also help older players. Though usually, these packs tend to be very weak on their own and serve as an introductory deck for new players.
There can be event packs as well, on anniversaries, or if a new season of the game’s anime version is released, among other things.
Your goal is to build a deck that is viable enough to stand in the current meta and its rules.
Most TCGs have many ways of winning a game, but the classics are reducing your opponent’s HP (life, health call it whatever) to 0 and your opponent is unable to draw cards.
The most popular TCGs are Yu-Gi-Oh, Magic: The Gathering and Pokemon TCG.
Since we’re talking about physical products, it’s rather obvious that each and every card will have its own value. Rarer or more limited cards tend to be the more expensive cards on every new set.
Older cards, or cards unable to be used at all but have some form of error in their text, or alternate art, or even is just plain old are worth way more.
Finally, card strength in the current meta is usually a criterion to price but is the least priority.
The prices always fluctuate depending on the players, the meta and new releases.
That’s the first problem with TCGs. Since some cards are bound to be much more expensive than others, that means that at some point, players who can afford to pay more are going to have an advantage.
As with most markets, if you are experienced (or wealthy) enough, you can collect cards, and when (if) their price skyrockets due to anything like new releases, new balance changes, etc, you can sell for a profit.
But we’re not here to talk about how to make money from TCGs, it’s pretty pointless anyway, the point is to lose money and have fun (like gambling which I do not endorse).
TCGs must be balanced by their respective companies.
Else, you have an optimal strategy that anyone who can afford it will play and win.
I mean, of course, there are going to be optimal strategies and decks, but at the very least, they should be beatable by some other powerful decks.
The meta should have about 2-4 dominant decks, as well as up to 5 strong decks that can compete with the dominant ones.
Among the strong and dominant decks, usually, you will be able to build a plethora of non-meta decks for fun.
There are 2 main ways that TCGs are balanced, and both have their problems.
The first is by a banlist. A banlist is a list that dictates which cards can be played and how many times.
This way, if something is too strong, you just ban it or reduce it at least. Of course, this can always be used to make players force buy new cards by banning the meta but who am I to point it out?
The second way to regulate things is by creating formats. Essentially, this means that most new cards can be used and old cards become obsolete. This also means that most official tournaments will be held using this format.
Of course, when playing casually, the players make the rules.
The 2 above regulations have both positives and negatives.
The banlist has the positive of ensuring that players can keep their decks as long as they stay relevant, and since you only ban outliers, you ensure that the only way to shake up the meta is by introducing new archetypes and decks that are interesting.
The negative is split into 2 parts.
The first is that if a company gets too greedy, they’re gonna release intentionally OP generic cards for everyone, and, due to its power and age, it will become very expensive.
Thus, most players who play competitively will be “forced” to buy them. And since the banlist exists, and this is an obvious outlier, it will get banned, and the next big thing will be introduced.
The second is known to everyone; powercreep.
Now don’t get me wrong, powercreep can be a problem without a banlist.
In fact, many games, TCG or not, suffer from powercreep.
Before I get into this further, I will explain powercreep.
Essentially, powercreep means that with newer releases, old cards become literally obsolete.
When someone talks about powercreep, they mean that a company is intentionally creating stronger and stronger strategies (and in this case cards), in order to “force” players to buy the newer cards.
A banlist can further help with powercreeping, as the company can just release anything they want and correct it afterward with the banlist.
Now about the format system.
The positives and negatives should be obvious. The positive is simply the fact that every tournament will be different than the last, with new decks and strategies to go around.
The negative is of course the fact that you’re gonna have to keep paying to be relevant in any officially supported format.
Epilogue – Pro Play
Most gamers have probably dreamt of going pro one day. Has anyone wondered why it’s so hard to do it?
There are 2 main reasons here. The first is a pro’s ability to be emotionally detached. This means that he won’t favor 1 strategy (or deck) over another due to personal preference in type, art, concept, etc.
He is able to ruthlessly choose the most optimal strategy and execute.
The second is their mentality.
Any gamer thinks that becoming pro is “so awesome and cool ’cause you get to play games all day!”
Being pro means (like any other job) spending hours over improving yourself and/or your strategies.
With these in mind is it worth pursuing a professional career in TCG?
I don’t think so.
A pro in any digital game only has to practice, practice, practice.
In TCGs, pros will have to always spend some of their money on newer cards and releases. Not only that but with the way TCGs are structured, you can literally be the best, only to lose to something you weren’t supposed to just because of a bad draw (simply put, RNG).
In the end, I don’t think that becoming pro in TCGs is that much something anyone should aspire unless they have tremendous talent, but even then, RNG still looms over the horizon.
Epilogue – Casuals
Now to the casuals.
I guess if you enjoy the respective product and any animated shows or games they produce (simply put, if you are a fan), there’s no harm in playing TCGs.
If anything, they offer something fun to do with (hopefully like-minded) friends.
But know this; if you are to become a TCG player, you will lose money.
And it’s not optional.
Do you play TCGs? Which is your favorite? What don’t you like about your favorite TCG? Leave a comment below.
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