15

In the beginning, Magic: the Gathering decks had to have at least 40 cards. Later, the developers changed the deckbuilding rules in two ways:

  • The minimum deck size went from 40 cards to 60 cards in Constructed.
  • You could only have up to 4 copies of each card in your deck that wasn't a basic land.

I totally understand the decision to limit you to 4 copies of any one card; this needs no explanation. However, why did they change the minimum deck size? I can find conflicted references to when it happened, but I have yet to find why it happened. So: why did it happen? What motivated Wizards of the Coast to make the change?

I'm aware there's multiple possible gameplay or sales reasons or benefits. What I am most interested in is the serious reasons that actually motivated the change, and the serious reasons why this minimum remains the case to this day and has not yet been increased or decreased in over 20 years.

Good answers to this question will demonstrate that Wizards of the Coast was and is motivated by the issues that answer describes. This is to ensure this question can have an actual demonstrably objectively correct answer, and avoid it becoming and endless list of possible reasons and impacts. A good answer must clear this bar before it also engages in speculation, and should delineate what is speculation and what is certain.

  • As I recall, both deck size restriction and 4-of restriction were pretty much arbitrary choices, and they worked out so haven't been changed. I don't have a reference for that, though, so this is a comment and not an answer. – Brian S Jan 27 '15 at 15:49
  • 1
    I found another dead end. It lists basically every major rules change since Alpha, and is geared towards returning players. I can't believe that this change wouldn't be listed. – Rainbolt Jan 27 '15 at 15:53
  • An interesting observation: many other card games that have been released since preserve the 1:15 ratio of number of cards to deck size. Netrunner has a 3 copy limit and a (typical) deck minimum of 45. Arkham Horror has a 2 copy limit and a deck size of 30. While it is entirely conceivable that other games just copied Magic's ratio, this could also be the result of extensive playtesting. 1:15, depending on how many cards you draw, strikes a good balance between interesting (you get different cards each game) and reliable (you get the cards your deck needs to work). – Zags Jun 12 '17 at 5:07
18

Mark Rosewater wrote a very interesting article a while back called, "20 things that were going to kill Magic the Gathering."

This is the first thing that was going to kill magic at the time. Here's all he states in that article, but it's the best I can find to answer your question:

R&D realized that the rules were a problem, so they introduced two changes. First, the minimum for Constructed decks was changed from forty to sixty. It remained at forty for Limited formats. Second, every card but basic lands was limited to no more than four copies. Four was chosen because it allowed some consistency for deck building but wasn't too much to ensure that the card would always be drawn every game.

The second item that was going to kill magic, was the addition of the banned/restricted list. The first line of that discussion reads:

The four-of card limits and the increase in deck size helped, but it didn't stop the degeneracy...

So, it's pretty clear, that 60 was introduced to limit the "degeneracy" of decks. If you've ever tried to take your favorite 60 card deck, and squeeze it down to 40 cards, you realize that it's significantly faster at 40 than at 60.

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    It seems to me that if you were limited to 3 copies of a card (that isn't a basic land) in a deck, but the minimum deck size was 45, the degeneracy would be similar, since the probability of any individual card would be the same? – Hao Ye May 12 '16 at 19:06
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    @HaoYe interesting point. I hadn't thought of the "magic numberness" of 4 before. If you make it 4 and 60, it means Wizards sells more cards. Perhaps that's why 4 was chosen over 3? Also, the consistency of 3/45 will be higher than 4/60. If you want to force more luck into the game, you'll move to 4/60 over 3/45. Certainly restricted cards are much more significant in a 45 card maindeck than a 60 card maindeck. – John May 13 '16 at 12:22
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    @HaoYe There's more to it than just a card occupying 1/15 possible spots in your deck. For example, every game you start with a 7 card hand. Lets assume you don't draw a given card you have the max number of in your deck. In a 60 card deck you are left with 4/53 ~= 7.547% chance of drawing the card. In a 45 card deck you get 3/38 ~= 7.895% chance. Not a huge difference, but it is there. Having a smaller deck also changes the power of certain cards. Draw spells and cantrips become even more powerful. Drawing 2 out of 53 is not the same as drawing 2 out of 38. – Becuzz Jun 12 '17 at 12:13

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