Magic: The Dying

Many long time readers will know me as an avid Magic: The Gathering fan, playing the game casually through draft, semi-competitively at Legacy, and actual competitively, making money at GP Brisbane 2017 in Modern.

But all that’s come to an end now, I’m giving it up. There’s no rage quit induced “To hell with this” and you’ll see me next month, I’m walking away and selling out, for good.

But why? Probably nobody out there is asking of this low wattage bulb of a maybe-one-day-professional player. I guess that’s why I’ve written this article then, isn’t it? See how many points you agree with me on, I’m not here to make you quit too, but in combination these were enough to make me walk.

A Platform Shift

It’s no secret that Wizards of the Coast have been promoting the everloving heck out of their online release: Arena. They’re paying reputable streamers, including FPS, Battle Royale, and RTS pros alongside TCG and OCG players. I’m no purist and have played Hearthstone, Eternal, and a little Elder Scrolls Legends, I enjoyed card games in all forms, but it doesn’t seem like the best way to showcase your game is to pay people without TCG backgrounds to stream it. Not only does this lead to less interaction (I watch Ninja for FPS games, not card games for example) but you’re doing it at the expense of those who geniunely want to excel at and promote the game. You’re making short term gains by trading off a long term community.

Wizards are doing this promotion at the detriment of the physical card game. There are less physical events, less fun things to do at your store, and players are having to choose between paper and digital purchases. Even we at ATGN have suffered, we’d love to review some swanky new product but we’ve not been allocated anything to review for some time.

In the US this is probably less of a problem, since their population can support both platforms, but this is made worse in APAC by:

Declining Player Numbers

I may be wrong, because most of the player base is at home in their underpants, but I’ve got the feeling that every format’s player base (except maybe commander) is in decline.

In my time playing, my local stores went from turning away people from Pre-releases, 30-40 player Modern, 20+ player Legacy, and 3-4 Draft Pods every week reliably to only 120 players across Pre-Release weekends, 20 player Modern, 10-15 player Legacy, and you’d be lucky to fire a Draft Pod.

It’s not just locals though, MagicFests are seeing a similar decline: For Legacy – Atlanta 2019 had 1600 players where Columbus 2016 had 1800. For Modern – Columbus 2019 had 650 players where even Brisbane (a smaller playerbase) 2017 had 1000.

This weekend’s Brisbane MagicFest has the lowest attendance for a non-limited event in five years.

And we won’t even talk about…

The Awful State of Standard

I’m here to break your game and summon elks

I don’t think even the most contentious person could argue that Wizards haven’t done their best work in the field of Standard. Multiple banned cards per format, insane player outcry and events suffering. I can’t remember the last time Standard fired at my local…

This means that Wizards RND is making massive mistakes, not playtesting correctly, and limiting their playtesting pool in order to reduce leaks. They’re making serious decisions about what to print and how to print it in order to market better. Seems like a cart-before-the-horse scenario to me.

To an Eternal, Frontier, Modern, or Commander player this may not seem too bad, but with an unstable Standard Format, cards printed won’t have the same impact, they’ll be insanely good or awful with no middle ground.

Even Channel Fireball, the mob organising the MagicFests world over have shifted some announced events over to Frontier, the brand new format. Which means we get to talk about my favourite:

Too Many Formats

This is my absolute favourite point on this list, and one I’ve spoken about quite a bit in person. Wizards openly support far too many formats, mostly by releasing product. What they fail to realise is that by making everything a format, the growth in sales does not mean that they’re creating a new playerbase, they’re poaching players from existing ones.

This is a bigger problem than it appears since both success and failure are cyclic. If you have a 30 player weekly event, people make the effort because they know the event will be great; similarly if you struggle to get eight people they are likely to think “Why bother, it may not fire” and they choose not to come, meaning it definitely won’t fire.

We’re rapidly approaching a time where there won’t be enough players for most formats, and I think this will create a cascade of formats being de-sanctioned, players will be disillusioned, and Magic will be no more. As much as I no longer have passion for the game, that’s not something I want.

Policy on Non-Game Issues

I’m loathe to write about this, but I feel that Wizards and other organising entities have spent a lot of time focussing on social issues. Whether these issues are important or not is not the point I’d like to address, but more that the choices made are harming the community more than helping.

Wizards have aired their dirty laundry publicly, with issues from Zach Jesse’ banning, to repeat cheaters, to players’ behaviour on social media. Calling out and taking action in the public space doesn’t make you any friends. If you need to prune the rough edges, do so privately and in a way that stops the offender from going public out of spite.

With regards to the actual player bannings I get that for the Pro Players Club (maintained by WotC) this is their prerogative, they can invite who they want to their treehouse. But for players who are not part of this, the company should not be barring people from playing for non game (and non criminal) actions.

So I guess that’s kind of it, and by ‘it’ I mean ‘a lot’. I haven’t made this decision lightly, or impulsively. I’ve decided I can no longer support a game that I see as circling the drain, and through WotC’s own fault.

Everything comes to an end, and I thank all of you who enjoyed my articles (or abused me on reddit, whatever) and we’ll see where the future goes.

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