G’day handsome readers. I’ve got some succulent interviews lined up for your consumption but first, let us begin with a bar graph:
What you see here is the attendance record of Magic: the Gathering Grand Prix in Australia since 2005. The first Grand Prix I attended was the 2005 edition held in Melbourne. On that occasion 140 competitors showed up to do battle in the now defunct extended constructed format. Contrast that modest figure with the 902 players who did battle at this year’s Melbourne Grand Prix (standard constructed format). The evidence points to steady and unrelenting growth in the popularity of the oldest trading card game of them all. Grand Prix: Melbourne 2014 was the biggest and best Magic event I have ever seen on these shores and I think the tournament organisers and the playing community can be proud of the spectacle that is competitive Magic in Oz! For official coverage of the event including the top decklists navigate your browser here. Congratulations to South Korea’s Nam Sung-Wook who became his nation’s first ever Grand Prix winner after defeating local player Patty Robinson in the final. I managed to grab some info from the champion!
Nam Sung-Wook – Gets one for South Korea
How does it feel to be the first South Korean Grand Prix winner?
I am pretty psyched. We have a small group of about 4 or 5 dedicated players in South Korea who have been travelling to major events and I am glad to have achieved some recognition for that group and my country!
What did you do to prepare for the event?
I played a lot of Standard on Magic Online; probably about 4-5 hours a day! I also did some testing with the Korean playgroup.
Why did you choose Mono Black Devotion for this event?
It is my favourite deck and suits my play style. Also, at the Grand Prix Trials on Friday I noticed plenty of Green Red Monster and Blue White control decks so I decided black would be the right choice since Lifebane Zombie is a powerful answer to green creatures and Duress gives me a strong game against counter magic.
Once again congratulations to Nam. Besting a field of 900 players is quite an achievement! I managed to track down a few other VIPs during the weekend for some questions, starting with the inimitable Randy Buehler.
Randy Buehler – Legend of the Game
Randy is one of the biggest names in Magic. He is a Pro Tour winner, Hall of Famer and former head of Research and Development at Wizards of the Coast. He was at Grand Prix: Melbourne as part of the commentary team and I managed to drag him away from the action long enough to answer some questions!
The Magic brand has been growing rapidly over the last few years. What do you think has contributed most to this growth?
I think Magic’s increased digital presence has been a key contributor to the influx of new players. In particular, Duels of the Planeswalkers has increased the visibility of the brand while being user friendly to new players. This is in keeping with Research and Development’s ‘New World Order’ philosophy which was implemented to lower the barrier to entry for the game. The complexity of Magic had steadily increased to the point where it discouraged new players. Now the core set is designed specifically with new players in mind.
What do you like about Australia?
I like that Aussies are laid back. You guys are a friendly bunch and pleasant to hang out with!
What is your all-time favourite card?
It has to be Necropotence. It helped me win the Pro Tour in 1997 and led to my employment at Wizards of the Coast and many other great opportunities.
You’ve recently returned to the commentary team for major events. Can we expect you to continue in this role for the foreseeable future?
Yeah. I really enjoy commentating and I’m keen to keep doing it!
Do you have plans to participate as a competitor in any future events?
Well my wife works for Wizards of the Coast which disqualifies me from participating in sanctioned events but if circumstances were to change in the future I’m sure I would be first in line to sign up for some big events!
Isaac Egan – A Familiar Face at Australian Magic Events
Isaac is a stalwart of Aussie Magic. He puts up consistently good results and has made a notable contribution to the community over the years in various endeavours such as online and brick & mortar games shops as well as blogs and podcasts such as Wizards of Oz.
How long have you been playing this great game!?
16 years now. I started with Ice Age. (Author: me too!)
What is your impression of Theros block so far?
I’m a fan. I love the scry-lands for constructed and there is some terrific flavour with cards like Chained to the Rocks and Eye Gouge.
Which plane(s) and/or characters should be featured in the Magic: the Gathering movie?
Squee! He must save the day by making some sort of mistake.
You have a reputation in the Aussie community for indomitable optimism and good sportsmanship. How do you do it?
I think it’s because I always try to remember that we’re just playing a game. That said I have occasionally let frustration get the better of me. I really believe that what goes around comes around and that we should all be nice to each other. (Author: For a great article on sportsmanship in Magic, check this out).
How long has the Wizards of Oz podcast been running and can we expect more frequent shows in the future?
I’ve been doing it for just over a year now and we are going to try and do a monthly cast this year. Check it out!
Lindsay Heming – Australia’s Premier Judge and Tournament Organiser
Lindsay is Australia’s professional tournament organiser for Magic and also one of 5 level 3 judges in the country. As such he was the official T.O. for Grand Prix: Melbourne
How long have you been judging Magic for?
I have been a judge since Mercadian Masques in 1999.
Is this event the largest you have organised?
Yes. It’s great when everything comes together. The extra numbers aren’t that problematic since we planned for up to 1100 players, but I have encountered some new logistical issues with the live coverage team that we have this weekend. (Author: as far as I know, GP:Melbourne is the first Aussie event to have video broadcast live over the internet!).
Do you think we have enough judges in Australia? What could be improved?
I think we do need more judges since there are more stores opening up now. We need additional level 1 judges for those stores and a few more level 2 judges for Grand Prix. Level 2 judges need certification with the Infraction Procedure Guide.
Are there any good playing habits you wish players would adhere to more?
You would be amazed at how many people refuse to listen to announcements! Also, THINK before you ask. Another problem is carelessness with possessions. DON’T leave your stuff lying around. Finally, our jobs would be a lot easier if players communicated with each other properly. Please keep track of your life totals guys.
What is the most annoying card, mechanic or interaction that you have experienced as a judge over the years?
There are the usual older examples such as Chains of Mephistopheles, Opalescence and Humility. Dark Confidant triggers have been a nuisance over the years as well. This weekend there has been a lot of talk about Polukranos and how its monstrous ability works when you have no targets or you activate it for zero (Author: apparently Polukranos must target at least one creature an opponent control UNLESS there are no legal targets). Also there has been some concern about unscrupulous players trying to get people in trouble over missed Desecration Demon triggers.
Sherry Ma – Keeping Things in Order for Hasbro and Wizards
Sherry is Hasbro’s event marketing manager for Magic events in Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia.
What are you responsible for in terms of the Magic: the Gathering brand in Australia?
I co-ordinate between the head office of Wizards of the Coast and tournament organisers such as Lindsay. My job is to make sure that events such as Grand Prix: Melbourne meet Hasbro’s policies and global standards.
With a new record attendance of 902 players at Grand Prix: Melbourne do you expect numbers to continue to grow at future events?
Yes. The growth of Magic and Magic events has been very good recently. My predecessor, Rob Tierney, set up the system and network to ensure the growth and success of the Magic community in Australia. One of my tasks is to assist store owners in their efforts to train new players and expose gamers to the brand. Feedback has been really good and the attendance at this weekend’s event is evidence of the success of our efforts. We are hoping to see over 1000 players attend Grand Prix: Sydney later this year!
Are we going to need larger venues going forward? The Melbourne Park Function Centre has hosted Grand Prix for years but this is the first time I can remember that an additional hall has been needed to cater for the players.
Yes. Space is a high priority for Wizards of the Coast. It is also important that the venues have excellent amenities and levels of comfort. It is too early to tell if the Melbourne Park Function Centre will be able to host the next Grand Prix in Melbourne but I suspect we may have to move if we get 1500 players or more.
To what do you attribute the growing popularity of Magic?
Magic has indeed been growing and Australia and New Zealand has one of the best growth percentages for the brand worldwide! I think Research and Development has done a great job in producing consistently high quality products for several years now. The high attendance levels are indicative of a product that players want to play. If the cards were boring then numbers would drop. Theros, in particular, has demonstrated Wizards of the Coast’s commitment to quality and flavour with a very well received focus on Ancient Greek mythology.
What does a person need to do to secure a job at Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro?
Wizards of the Coast has a standard job application process. If there is an opening available then advertisements will be released to employment agencies and the like. In terms of qualifications it is obviously job dependent. For example I was not required to know the game in order to be hired. I have 10 years of experience in finance and this was deemed appropriate for my current position (I have since picked up the game and enjoy it a lot!).
Thanks to all the interviewees for putting up with my questions. See you guys at Sydney in August. Hopefully we can continue to shatter attendance records in Australia!