Marvel Snap’s Infinite Rank Is Gaming’s Latest Meta Trap

Marvel Snap is a digital collectible card game that will take you on a fun ride, but eventually force you to ask yourself some important questions.

Marvel Snap
Photo: Second Dinner/Marvel

A weird thing happened to me at the start of March. After weeks of grinding the CCG Marvel Snap, I had finally climbed the ranks during the game’s ‘Into the Quantum Realm’ season. Previous seasons had seen me hit rank 50 or 60 at best, but as I crested 90 I realized that this was my moment. I was going to smash 100. The ‘Infinite’ rank.

I got there because a Snap Collector’s Cache had randomly spat out Series 4 golden girl Shuri, a rare card with a 58.2% win rate. With Shuri in your deck, you can double the power of the next card you play. That means a 30-power Red Skull followed by a 30-power Taskmaster. It means a 16-power Black Panther that Arnim Zola can destroy and copy twice to create two 32-power Black Panthers. With the right locations and some reduced card costs per game, you can easily be slapping down 240 power on some poor soul. It’s no surprise, then, that Shuri decks have become much maligned in the Snap community. Players have added it to their regular complaints, insisting the card be nerfed.

I drank their tears; their cries rejuvenated me. I didn’t give a jot how much pain my Shuri deck dished out to my opponents. I was climbing the ranks like never before, and hours of my life every day had been committed to hitting Infinite with it. This was my time! And anyway, how much longer would Marvel Snap developer Second Dinner let Shuri players get away with this? No, my mind was set on achieving the one thing my friends hadn’t yet managed, and no one was going to stand in my way.

No one, that is, except me. With several days left to skip down an easy path to Infinite, I stopped grinding at 91, and abandoned my Shuri deck. I wish I could tell you that I’d had a sudden epiphany, but any realizations I came to were like slow, dawning sunlight on my incredibly clueless brain. Only now can I explain why I gave up on the Infinite dream: it was simply that the part of me that inherently knows rank doesn’t matter had pushed the slobbering rank achiever out of the driver’s door, and taken the wheel.

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I was bored of my Shuri deck and its same few plays. I was bored of winning. I was bored of Marvel Snap’s meta, even though it was working in my favor. I didn’t even know why I was trying to get to Infinite anymore, not really. Snap’s ranked rewards are often laughable, so getting to Infinite wasn’t about snagging those. It was the perceived clout of just…doing it. I had put way too much emphasis on the achievement, but I can’t blame the game for that. I knew exactly what was happening here: I was willingly falling into Snap’s trap.

The quest to climb ranks on Marvel Snap is in your face every time you finish a match. The last thing you see is a pretty animation showing you how many cubes you’ve gained or lost in the past few minutes. The feeling of losing a lot of them can be devastating, while the delight you feel when gaining them drains away quickly. Climbing the ranks also means accepting that with each Snap season, your rank will be reset, and the grind – should you choose to accept it – will begin anew. In that way, the game taps into a Sisyphean part of us that we go to great lengths to ignore, lest we lose the will to live.

As we tumble through existence, there is a larger game we can feel forced to play. There are things that we believe we should yearn and hustle for. If we get them, we’ll surely feel better about everything. But deep down, we know that those things alone won’t bring us true or lasting happiness. Mostly, they’re meaningless. While chasing the brief high of rank achievement playing Marvel Snap, I had unwittingly decided how much I was willing to sacrifice in pursuit of a thing that didn’t even matter. What else could I be doing that would have actually improved my life, even in small ways? Was I playing the game, or was the game playing me? These are the Sex and the City voiceover questions I started asking myself.

As soon as I started asking those questions, the way I played Marvel Snap changed dramatically. I put together a deck full of interesting cards that I’d never really played before. I knew full well it wouldn’t propel me through the ranks, but the gameplay was more challenging. Admittedly, it was also disheartening, at least to begin with. As I slipped further and further, finding wins tricky whereas before they had come easy, it was tempting to go back to a more powerful deck. Eventually, the temptation passed. I was no longer bored playing the game, and I didn’t care how many cubes I lost. It occurred to me that I was actually having fun again.

I know I’m not the only Marvel Snap player to go on this journey. I’ve spoken with others about it and heard how the game’s ranks affect people in different psychological ways. Some noted that they have addictive tendencies, and the pursuit of rank eventually prompted them to delete the app entirely, as they were self-aware enough to recognize the cycle. Even if you don’t consider yourself to have those issues, there’s just no point in turning another thing you love into a tedious grind.

Of course, obsessing over the grind, ranks, and optimizing your play by embracing the pre-set strategies dictated by the competitive “meta” isn’t just a Marvel Snap issue (Second Dinner at least seems to be aware of how problematic it is). There are plenty of other games, like Hearthstone, Overwatch, Call of Duty, and League of Legends, that rely on the same combination of secret ingredients to keep us hooked. They aren’t designed like this by accident, and the industry still tends to embrace that grind mentality whenever it can get away with it. It knows that this kind of gameplay appeals to a dark part of our nature that will keep on lunging for the brass ring ad nauseam, and another part that can make us feel like failures if we’re not actually thought of as “good” at a hobby we’ve put so much time and effort into.

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To those who thrive on this stuff and don’t have a problem with it, I salute you. Good luck, and enjoy the rewards. To those who jump ship, or come to the realization that a game is only fun if you’re having fun, congratulations. You have also leveled up.