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I miss classic video game adaptations of trading card games, but they’re dead and never coming back.

I grew up in a lower middle class household, a 90s kid through and through. I was 8 when Pokémon first hit the scene. Around the same time that I first began seeing those iconic blue cards, I also noticed my older cousins playing Magic the Gathering. The idea of opening booster packs to find out what incredible creatures were now mine was such an exciting idea that I asked my parents if I could have Magic and Pokémon cards too.

Sadly, my parents were still in the midst of their satanic panic phase, and hearing my cousins saying "I'll cast a Dark Ritual for three black mana" was enough to ban Magic in our home, and rumors about children fighting, stealing, and gambling over Pokémon cards put a pin in that too. It also was a pretty hard sell for just how expensive they were regardless.

That said, I still had a Gameboy Color, and found myself in possession of the Pokémon Trading Card Game for it. I played it more than I ever played the mainline games. There was something just a little more cerebral to it. I loved building up my side and bench. I loved allotting energy across my team. I loved that I didn't just get into a battle and solarbeam my problems away every single time. Most importantly, I loved that after each battle I was rewarded with two booster packs full of prizes rather than a miniscule amount of exp.

Not long after that, my cousin brought over a burned CD of Magic the Gathering the PC game (usually called Shandalar nowadays) and let me keep it. It took me a lot longer to figure Magic out, but god damn was it an excellent game. Fighting your way through a dungeon, losing your best cards to unlucky antes, and finally reaching the end to find a Black Lotus was such an awesome feeling.

Over the years I'd excitedly wait for the sequels to Pokémon TCG and Shandalar. Pokémon kept growing in popularity as it kept getting new mainline games, and Magic got a weird spinoff game or two, but they never came back in any major way for years.

I ended up getting Yu-Gi-Oh Spirit Caller and played the shit out of it throughout highschool. It scratched that itch for a digital card adventure style game for the time being, but of the "big three" TCGs, Yu-Gi-Oh was my least favorite. Magic the Gathering Duels of the Planeswalkers came out around this time too, but I was disappointed to learn that it was a small selection of preconstructed decks to be played mainly online. No adventure mode or deck building.

As I spent more and more time online, I learned a few things:

  • Magic the Gathering Online had been out for some time now, but was just as ruthlessly pay to win as the physical card game.
  • Pokémon TCG for Gameboy did have a sequel, but it was Japan only.
  • The only single player adventure style tcgs coming out any more were Yu-Gi-Oh.
  • Just how expensive it is to build a deck if I wanted to play these games for real.

I was pretty disheartened, but to me the real final nail in the coffin was Hearthstone. Blizzard proved that people won't complain as much about pay-to-win lootboxes if they're branded as a trading card game. Imagine if Hearthstone was more like a 1v1 action RPG, but all your weapons and spells came from booster packs. People would have thrown a fit over that.

Bit of a tangent I guess.

Is anyone else with me? Does anyone else miss that satisfying loop of explore, duel, booster pack?

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