[Something To Ponder] Mixed Messages & Ivory Towers

Hello everyone, and welcome back to Strictly Average MTG for another article in the Something To Ponder series. I hope you all had fun at the Guilds of Ravnica pre-release (I did), and if you did not have a chance it was a lot of fun. Today though I wanted to talk about some issues that have been brought to light since last week, and a few things on my mind with the game as a whole.

Gerry Thompson, and The World Championship

Last week notable Magic: the Gathering professional player Gerry Thompson posted on Twitter that he was not going to play in this year’s World Championship event. I would have written an article on this, but I was in the midst of the individual guild reviews, and did not want to ruin the flow of those articles. This news hit the community like a ton of bricks, and no one (except those closest to Gerry) knew it was coming. After reading the article I honestly can’t blame him at all. He goes into a lot of points (of which I won’t cover all) that I agree with, and even though I have no aspirations to have playing Magic be my source of income it is a hobby I have been invested in for a long time. Things like this happening, and the ramifications of such, can impact even people like me so we should all pay attention.

  1. I do not know what Wizards pays the players who play at the highest levels beyond just what is posted about prize payouts, but compared to other games that have blown by Magic: the Gathering in viewership as well as popularity it surely does seem that those who choose to go this route are not properly compensated for their time. Many players wanting to win at these types of events have to stream, be a part of a podcast, write on a website like Star City Game or Channel Fireball, or find other ways within Magic to supplement the income they get from just playing. Essentially they have to get a second job. Have you ever taken a look around you, and wonder why many of us (at least here in the United States) feel that it’s “okay” for people to have to have a second job to stay afloat? That one job is simply “not enough”? I’m sure there are reasons why people do it, and that’s fine. I have before in my life (more than once even) but honestly we all could be better without having that as a rule rather than an exception. This game should be no different. Wizards needs to rethink how they pay players who are at the top of this game, and promote their product. If Wizards is going to treat the Pro Tour are a promotional tour (which honestly it is) then they need to compensate those who promote it, especially if those people can be placed in a Hall Of Fame.
  2. This year marked the 25th anniversary of the game. However they did not work with GenCon to be a part of that event which would have placed more eyes on the game than being held at another venue. The Silver Showcase was also an absolute disaster. They brought in players who left Magic to play other games (such as Hearthstone), and the finals match did not have a pro Magic player paired against a non-Magic player. This was perhaps the most egregious thing about the event let alone the choice of format. The players chosen should have been promoting the current product, and maybe even do that through Magic Arena. Wizards of the Coast had one chance to put all of the gaming world on their product, and blew it.
  3. In this day and age of information gathering data is important to many of us. If decks are registered well in advance, and can even be done electronically, having only 32 to look at by the end of the event is not enough. Let’s say for instance that Mono Green Tron wins an event, but we never know how many total players registered that deck, what their win-loss record is vs certain matchups, and how many of those decks lost as opposed to those that won. Sometimes we get lost on a deck winning than understanding what matches it faced during a weekend. More on this later.
  4. I understand highlighting your players is very important. They push the joys of the game, and can in many respects become celebrities in the community. While many point to Star City Games for doing this I think it can even go a bit farther. I would like to see a focus on those players local to the areas that these events hit, as well as on those who always travel to these events. To me in the last five years I can’t recall many new names being given the spotlight. I’m not saying turn away from those that people want to see, but let’s hear about a good player or community representative that only appears when an event is close to where they live. Major League Baseball (for example) is good about this when a team goes on the road. When arriving in the visiting city there will be a focus during the entire broadcast on players the visiting team is about to face. This gives the viewer an inside look on players they may not already know. In the case of Magic if the focus is only on the same group of people we may never get to see anyone new.
  5. The road to trying to become a pro is awful. When Gerry said that it’s “first or dead last” system the PPTQ (and even RPTQ) systems are exactly that. Trying to top 8 a GP is equally as difficult, and with the price of entry for these events rising one could suddenly feel like this weekend was wasted when they walk away with nothing (not even a playmat) to show for their time spent. These items should not be add-ons. Doing so makes it appear that you are greedy, and want more money than you are willing to put out for support. This also is worse for those outside of the United States where events are not as plentiful.
  6. REMOVE THE CHEATERS!! No one who has cheated the game in a purposeful or malicious way should ever be allowed to play at the highest level, nor be sponsored by Wizards of the Coast to promote their game (even streaming Magic Arena) ever. Period. It’s literally a mixed message.

I will not pretend that I know Gerry, however I can agree with a lot of things he’s mentioned. In my opinion, as I have watched him over the years through his articles as well as podcasts, he has grown to be a positive influence in the community. Many of us should aspire to be this positive in not only our own individual communities, but in life overall.

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The World Champion is…who?

While Javier Dominguez did win the tournament that very few knew about he was not prominently displayed on the home page of the Magic website. Why? Imagine if your favorite sports team won their league’s championship, and info about them as well as the game was buried in the main page. Wouldn’t that be frustrating? Wouldn’t you be looking for the news elsewhere instead of clicking on the various links trying to find the answer? I understand the purpose for the re-design of the homepage for Magic, but when was the last time you went there to read an article that was not about a recent tournament?

I used to go there for information, but currently there are enough content creators out there that you can find their articles, videos, and content outside of the Magic homepage. Sure this helps new players get to those creators, but what if we get familiar with where those people are? What purpose does the homepage serve then? Javier should have been the very first thing to appear when going to this page, For a week. Without question. However he wasn’t, and once again Wizards missed an opportunity to do a good thing.

Also I heard Gerry was banned from even entering the event where it was held? I’m sorry, but that’s just damn childish. For a game that’s been around 25 years they have a lot of growing up to do. If you want bad PR then that’s how you do it.

Counterspell? No. Lightning Bolt? No. Better Vindicate? Yes…?

As I mentioned before this marked the 25th anniversary of Magic: the Gathering, and for it we went back to Dominaria. We were able to visit, briefly, the original plane where the story of the game took place. This was their chance to reprint cards from Magic’s history for us to play again, and while I know cards on the Reserved List are out of the question I was hoping for something from the past to spice things up. Sure the set itself was fine, but it was drenched in new cards, new play design philosophy, and with the exception of Serra Angel, Icy Manipulator, and Siege-Gang Commander there wasn’t a whole lot of the game’s past (in the form of reprints) to truly embrace the nostalgia.

I understand that a lot of the players currently playing at an FNM level or above may not have been playing as long as I have, but we have had Lightning Bolt in Standard before. We nearly got Counterspell, but that’s when the idea to reduce the cost if a Wizard was in play happened. We keep being told that printing cards like this make them too powerful for Standard. I also understand that Wizards is in a place where they want to produce the most new cards in each set vs reprints.

However are you going to tell me this card is “balanced”, or “good”, for Standard play?

When new players are told a card like this is “good” or “acceptable” it sets a bad precedent. Having cards like Lightning Bolt in a Core Set honestly is fine. As long as the colors are balanced, and each can do powerful things, cards in the game’s past can be put into Core Sets as they could help deal with things either currently present, or coming up. Having a high percentage of playable cards in a set also helps sell sealed product.

However with all of that said they flip that philosophy on it’s head and give us a better version of Vindicate in Assassin’s Trophy? Sure they do design cards that are the chase cards. The ones that will “sell the set”, but honestly we were going back to RAVNICA. All they really needed to do was show us Shocklands, and we were sold. They either do want to give us powerful cards that will find their way from Standard to eternal formats upon release, don’t want to provide us reprints, or are looking for ways to push a set because sales may not be where they feel they should be. Or perhaps it’s all of that? As a long time player this seems really confusing. The more they do things like this, and not provide reprints, the less they appear to be interested in those who have been long time consumers. That’s a bad look for a company that says they are “still growing”.

Amazon? Walmart? Target? Oh my!

Yes. I understand the concerns. Wizards has eliminated the option for your local game store to order directly from them to get stock when the distributor is out. They are also selling directly to these online retailers when they could promote the local game store instead.

Yep. Got it.

What about the Mythic Edition that’s only available through the Hasbro Toy Store? That also cuts out the local game store.

Yeah, but are you really going to buy that? Let’s take a look at these issues one at a time.

  1. Wizards of the Coast recognizes a trend in how consumers are spending their money. They are clearly focused on gaining new players in the 13 year old to 23 year old demographic. As the consumers in that age have changed over the years they have noticed a trend in that demographic: primarily online shopping. They are playing games, watching a program, or even just communicating primarily online than any other method. As longtime retailers have begun to downsize (or even close) as this trend continues Wizards of the Coast notices an opportunity to reach new players. Yes I also understand that stores sell sealed product on sites like TCG Player, however if the new player is not even familiar with the seller (in this case the store) how can they find them? We also have to keep in mind the older buyers (perhaps someone getting a gift for the new player) may not know where to go, or if they do what to buy. I have had family members attempt to go into the stores I visit, and they have no idea if what they purchased for me is the current product, what it’s value is (financially of course, but to me that’s not what counts), and if they are doing things correctly (as far as what they are asking for, saying it’s name right, etc). These consumers are put in a very stressful, and potentially embarrassing situations. You might be laughing, but it’s true. Think about this the next time you buy something for someone, and you are not familiar with the product let alone where to look for it. Buying these things online is a lot easier, and they can direct where it’s shipped to keep it a surprise as well. That’s a win for everyone. Also we need to keep in mind that Wizards has to print to this new demand which will make singles cheaper. I recently asked a store how much a box was, and it was $120. Would you rather buy a box at that price, or for under $100?
  2. Many complain that stores should have been given the Mythic Edition to sell. Oh how soon do we forget. Yes it’s $250 through the Hasbro Toy Shop, but if this was sold through your local game store this would have been more than double what Wizards is asking for. Do you all remember the now discontinued From The Vault (FTV) series? This was a series of fifteen cards with a unique foiling process (and sometimes new art) packed with an MSRP of around $35 sold only through your local game stores. These products, depending on how good the cards in it are, often times were sold for a much greater price. Guess who complained about this happening? You guessed it. You did. The same people upset that the Mythic Edition is only available through Wizards of the Coast. Sure just like the FTV this isn’t for everyone, but Magic is at times a FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) type of hobby. New products bring the most demand, and when there is a sense of a barrier it causes people to choose to miss out. Their natural reaction is disdain, and then they are left without. Eventually this feeling passes, but not without the criticism that we have. In order to curb this Wizards of the Coast has kept the selling portion of this product under control. Go take a look at how much a box of this product, the Mythic Edition, is selling for online and then wonder why Wizards made this (correct) decision. Hopefully next time they can allow for orders from around the globe.

What can we do to make things better though? Well, as far as buying products at the local stores instead of Amazon we can introduce this game to others. Perhaps friends or family when we gather at parties, or even on the holidays. Yes those interested in going to stores can find that information for themselves online, but if we can put our phones down for a moment maybe we can teach someone we care about what the game is while gauging their interest for more information about it. There are products for new players out their, but these things don’t seem easy to understand, or may even be confusing to someone new to card games in general. Each of us can be ambassadors to the game which helps grow the game,…and leads to my next point.

Take Down Your Ivory Tower

At it’s center Magic: the Gathering is an intellectual strategy game. I find it a lot similar to games like Chess in that regard where you are only aware of the pieces in front of you, and the goal. The unknown is what plays your opponent will make next. You have to think ahead, and anticipate their moves while advancing your own game plan. However in recent years, especially with the increased connectivity via social media, content creators, and coverage, one thing has superseded that.

Wanting to be right. All the time.

Magic: the Gathering is a complex game full of possibilities to explore. I have heard from some that they equate it to be a puzzle to figure out, and once figured out a new puzzle emerges. This is a good way to think about the game, but sometimes we forget that not everyone can see the same puzzle. Nor should they.

Modern is a great example of this. The card pool is large enough where a player can find a style of deck they want to play, and play it. Yet when trying to engage with the community they can be met by others who dissuade them from making their choices, and depending on the level of conversation be made to feel uncomfortable or excluded.

We are so focused on being accepted by others who are at a level that we wish to achieve, and whom we may have never interacted with in person, that unless we play specific cards or decks we can begin to doubt ourselves as well as our way to think critically and genuinely. We wind up giving up thinking on our own to let someone else do that work for us, and our achievements are no longer unique or our own.

I encountered this level of backlash before Jace, the Mind Sculptor was allowed in Modern. I also encountered this when discussing Punishing Jund in Legacy as it doesn’t play Brainstorm. Sometimes even Jund in Modern as well (yet suddenly everyone’s backed off of hating Jund now that we have Assassin’s Trophy). Now suddenly the same people who would give grief over my choices are picking up these decks, and claiming how good they are as if they have known this for a long time.

What we should do instead is have a conversation when people in the community ask us about decks. Questions such as:

  • Why are you choosing this construction?
  • What is your favorite color to play?
  • What do you like to do when playing a game? Attack with creatures? Do something powerful?
  • How much time do you have to play? (Studying some strategies takes a lot longer than others)
  • …and others

Having a conversation with someone, instead of pointing our your opinions from your ivory tower, is more conducive in getting the other person to not only converse with you, but to also listen to what you may suggest as well as put together connections they may not recognize or understand. Not everyone in this game should play at the same level as YOU. Ever. Can they? Sure, but they should always find their own path, and be welcomed on that journey. Not feel like they have stepped into a Member’s Only jacket wearing club. This is a big negative that happens in our game from the kitchen table and can sometimes go all the way to larger events or even content (such as podcasts).

In Conclusion

What we truly need to understand is The Gathering part of this game is what makes it Magic. Sure the company can, and will, do what it feels is necessary. However there are still a lot of things that we collectively can (and should) do better. If we all work together, and do so in a positive manner, perhaps the changes we want to make with the game (as well as it’s coverage) will come to fruition.

Thank you all for reading. What are your thoughts on these issues? Do you wish we would get more reprints? Please comment below, and follow me on both Facebook as well as Twitter.

This weekend I will be in Columbus playing in the side events during the Star City Game Columbus Open. If you are going make sure to let me know, and we can play some games. I may also swing by 16-Bit Barcade as it is awesome.

Until then…

TAP MORE MANA!!!

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