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Wednesday, September 23rd – The return of States highlights what I’d like to talk about today, namely some ways in which Magic is missing out on some great opportunities. The States program is an example of just one area where I feel we could see some great growth in the Magic Arena. Today, we’ll run through some ideas on how to help Magic.

Extended and Standard are the formats that are about to be relevant to the average StarCityGames.com reader. Well, okay, not counting Zendikar draft and sealed for prereleases and FNM’s galore, but Zendikar is getting plenty of coverage. The pros are covering Extended pretty well, although I think a lean-mana Zoo deck could do well, given the number of one- and two-drops. I think Kird Ape has past its prime, as Goblin Guide is no faster, and the difference of 1 in the toughness department doesn’t really matter now, since Lightning Bolt is the Burn du Jour right now.

Standard will still matter for some FNM’s, of course, but more importantly for States, being held on December 5th this year. Wizards of the Coast is reportedly not giving out promotional foils, so the event prizes will be entirely supplied by the Tournament organizers. I’m excited for the return of the promotion the Tournament Organizers ran last year, namely that Each State Champion will receive free entry into any event run by any organizer who participated in the State Championship program. Basically, just about every PTQ and Domestic GP (Plus Canada, America’s kid brother to the north) will be free for you. In some cases, even things like FNM could be, if your local TO happens to be the same TO for States. Prereleases, Regionals, it’s a pretty sweet deal.

The return of States highlights what I’d like to talk about today, namely some ways in which Magic is missing out on some great opportunities. The States program is an example of just one area where I feel we could see some great growth in the Magic Arena. Today, we’ll run through some ideas on how to help Magic, and then end with a potential monochromatic decklist for the new Standard.

Since we’ve already mentioned States, let’s start off there. Wizards needs a semi-pro tournament that fills the gap between FNM and PTQs. Something that will bring in the casual players, and some pros too. They need a tournament that has a good top prize, but also prizes deep into the standings. Participation foils (similar to States) wouldn’t be a bad idea either. Obviously, States fits all of these prerequisites, but I’d also like to see a return of some form of Scholarship series, with some provisos attached to the scholarship.

First, let’s tackle States. I’d like to see 3 State Championship tournaments a year, ideally.

The first one should be in April sometime, right after a block has coompleted, and should be sealed, with a draft Top 8. Limited State Championships, get plenty of players wanting to draft the new set anyway, and draw in the semi-pros.

I guess I should define what I mean by semi-pro players. These are players who are probably good enough to hit a PTQ top 8, but aren’t the weekend grinders, hitting 6-7 PTQ’s a season. Players who are easily dominating the regualr FNM crowd, who want to PTQ, but have kids, or a regular job, or any number of commitments that keep them from getting real serisou about the game. The Bennie Smiths of the world, who love the game, and can play, but can’t throw down 40 hours a week on MODO and another 30 testing for the next PTQ, then blow a weekend hitting up the 6 hour drive there and another 6 back. As Gavin Verhey talked about last week, it’s the players who can’t make the commitment, but still want to play. These are also the guys who tend to have the most money to spend on the game. They’re the ones buying boxes, cracking packs, drafting, and still buying singles after all that. This is the fat middle that WotC makes their money on, and then some, because they spend the time they could be “Committing” to Magic working a 9-5 to pay the bills. These guys need the stress relief of a MTGO Draft, or the mindless joy of busting a box just to bust a box. Just like Big-time sports fans, who have 48 yard line seats and too many jerseys, Magic needs these fans.

States is a great chance for these kinds of players to play in. It’s every consistent, it’s low-key, but high on fun. They can be competitive, without needing to devote their waking life to breaking the format. And best of all, is the pride, the bragging rights, the title, and most importantly, the trophy (plaque). Flash back to this year’s Block Championships. Brian Kibler concedes to Brian Kowal for an even split of the prizes. And then they found out there was a trophy. It was a nice trophy, too. and Kibler wished he could go back and at least fight for it. Because we all want that title, don’t we? The prizes are nice, they provide the economic necessity, but no one says Bennie Smith, 1999 winner of two boxes of product and a playmat. No, they say Bennie Smith, 1999 Virginia State Champion.

So, back to the State Championships. The late fall State championship is still Constructed, and would be the newest testing ground for post-rotation Standard, as it has historically been for a while now. It allows players to try new and kooky ideas, with the hopes of finding the next awesome deck. The third leg of the State Championship series will be over the summer, and will be a team tournament. this will give high school and college players the time to practice more as teams, and will really open up a sense of camaraderie as teams form and playtest circles grow. This is an important step for players on “The Road to Worlds,” if that’s where they want to get. They will need to learn to network, to test in groups, to work together and play together. this format could be Constructed, or Limited. It could be 2 Headed Giant, or Emperor, or even 3-man team play similar to the Team World Championships. the big key is getting players to work together.

Bringing in a Scholarship series, the other half of our semi-pro plans, functions differently. By appealing to a young crowd, we are bringing in new players, players who might be doing Yu-Gi-Oh or Pokemon. We’re incentivizing their play to their parents (Wait, he can win his college tuition, and I can spend his college Fund towards a BMW Z3 instead?) You can attach a stipulation to the scholarship, even, say they have to play in at least one DCI event every month to maintain eligibility. But the important part is the acquisition. To be honest, Wizards of the Coast used the acquisition buzzword pretty heavy, and then cut new customer acquisition programs hard. Seeing things like the Scholarship series and the Delegate program cut really runs counterintuitive to the idea of acquisition.

Speaking of the Delegate program, this brings me to my next point: Dedicated, incentivized local Wizards of the Coast representatives. Not employees in every town, that’s too much. Volunteers specially chosen for their ability to help support Wizards of the Coast in whatever capacity needed at a local, hands-on level. Organizing tournaments, judging, new player demonstrations, teaching new store owners and Tournament organizers the ins and outs of the Wizards of the Coast system. You know how you have that guy you go to for advice on some specific subject, right? you have a Cell Phone guy, or a Computer guy, or a Football guy, or, well, you get the idea. A local guy can do so much for a community, and I’m proof. I started as a Delegate on January 1st, 2006, with one game store in town, which was already dead. Stupid kid had his mom buy the shop (as a tax shelter) and he ran it into the ground within 6 months of buying it. It closed down less than 6 weeks after I started. So, I started with no game shop at all, just a local comic shop thinking about hosting some magic. flash forward to today, and we have two stores in town , both running FNM, both running launch parties and Pre-releases. Now, I can’t personally take credit for it all, but a lot of building this community was driven by the Delegate program. Acquiring new players, activating old players, and so on and so forth. This community has seen it’s numbers dwindle since that program ceased to exist just over a year ago. Wizards of the Coast could use impartial, driven volunteers, which have incentives to grow the community and be a positive influence for Customers, Store Owners, Tournament Organizers and Wizards of the Coast.

This next idea isn’t really one that anyone has a whole lot of control over, but I’d like to see better nicknames nowadays. Remember the giants you used to read about, like Jonny Magic, or Kai “The German Juggernaut” Budde, or even topdeck master (and current SCG writer) Craig “The Professor” Jones. Now, let’s compare to some of todays nicknames. LSV is just initials, GerryT and CPhil sound like account usernames you’re assigned in College, and most other players don’t have anything other than some variation of either (initial)(Name), (Name)(Initial) or just (first or last name) Why aren’t our commentators coming up with better nicknames? I think we should definitely put Mark Rosewater on this. If he can make Roseanne Barr seem funny, this should be a piece of cake.

Next on my hitlist parade is the return of the Invitational. You know what fans of all past times love? the All Star game. You know what Magic doesn’t have? An All-Star game. You know what the Invitational pretty much is? An All-Star game! Look, I don’t care how you do it, but get 16 (or 32) men together for a suingle-day, single elimination tournament for some prizes, a cool title (2009 Magic Master?) and the ability to design a card. For selection, take each PT Champ from the previous year, the Vintage, Legacy, and Block Champ. The previous years top 3 finishers in the Player of the Year race, 10 voted spots (1 guaranteed per continent, plus 5 wild cards, restrictions apply, void where prohibited, please see your local WPN member for details) and then fill in with staff picks, Rankings, whatever to get to 32 guys. Play single elimination, and change the format each round. Round 1, standard. Round 2, Legacy. Round 3, Draft. Round 4, Extended. Round 5, Vintage. Or do some of the goofy formats that they’ve done in the past. But make it a gorram All-Star game. The Pro Tour needs to be as much about glitz and glamour for the fans as it does about cash and cards.

I know I spoke about Team events above for States, but I’d also like to se them return to the Pro Tour Stage. I would like to see some of the super Teams of old come back. Who doesn’t automatically evoke a memory when they hear things like “Your Move Games,” or “Phoenix Foundation” or “Potato Nation,” so near and dear to this Idahoan’s heart. I think it’s a good time to run another 3-man team Grand Prix, if not Pro-Tour, although I imagine Team PTQ’s might not be as fun. Hearing PV’s origins story and how he made it by teaming up with Willy Edel makes me want to see and hear more of these things. I think there’s a facebook group devoted to it too, with a bunch of members now. (You should join.)

Finally, I’d like to see Pro Player cards return in limited fashion. I think it should be a very small run, in each core Set, with the previous years HOF inductees and the Player of the Year. Maybe mark a special occasion too, like if Olivier Ruel passes Kai for lifetime Pro Points this year, which seems likely, you could do a card of that. I don’t want tons of them, but I wouldn’t mind seeing 2-3 per booster box, as something cool to get instead of the 200th rules insert 3/7 “Planeswalkers” reminder card, or whatever it is.

Okay, I know I said I was going to end with a decklist, but I’m not. I had a sweet mono-black list brewed up, but my Word document disappeared, and I’m rehashing this from a saved google.docs page, so it’s gone. I’ll reconstruct it and tune it some more (because there’s still more Zendikar to come!) and throw it out in another column.

Let me know in the Forums the kinds of things you’d like to see Wizards of the Coast doing. Until next time, this is Jeff Phillips, reminding you: Don’t make the Loser Choice.