Chatter of the Squirrel – Year in Review

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BDM and Flores covered “Twelve Decks,” or whatever, and y’all have I am sure recapped 2007-in-Magic more than you care to acknowledge. While Remi Fortier’s hair is certainly reminiscence-worthy, and Billy did probably design the best deck in Magic history, I’ll save you the trip through memory lane.

Instead, I’ll just talk about me.

Santa’s in midair, apparently, and members of my family flutter in and out like the sordid scents of overcooked meat. “Saints suck this year,” my cousin says, profoundly. Really. Amid television tirades and grandmotherly reminisces, I sit in the kitchen to write. And fix caramel candy. Yum.

Not Douglass quality baked goods, but then again, what is?

So today marks the two-year anniversary of my writing for StarCity, and the one-year of this column. Man. I figure I haven’t bored y’all with any sort of synopsis, well, ever, so I can take a rain check and do a year in review.

BDM and Flores covered “Twelve Decks,” or whatever, and y’all have I am sure recapped 2007-in-Magic more than you care to acknowledge. While Remi Fortier’s hair is certainly reminiscence-worthy, and Billy did probably design the best deck in Magic history, I’ll save you the trip through memory lane.

Instead, I’ll just talk about me.


Much to my surprise, I had my best season ever. This shocked me considerably because coming into Valencia I had all of two Pro Points and had basically resigned my finals appearance in St. Louis to a flash in a pan, a taste of what might could be. I mean, I am a writer, after all. We’re supposed to be awful!

Except for Chapin, but I mean. He’s superhuman.

I sit and talk about this now for several reasons. First and foremost, it let me know my role. Somewhere, Duane Johnson is proud. But unlike several writers I would feel more than awkward pontificating dogmatically about how you ought to do this and this to get better at Magic if I myself couldn’t cut it on the Pro Tour. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m still firmly a middle-of-the-pack player, but it’s difficult to express how refreshing it is to finally validate this idea I’ve had in my head that I know something about this game and I ought to spread the word.

See, writing this column is really good for me. Partly, of course, it’s ego-stroking. Just count the namedrops. Obvious. But I think about things very academically, very analytically, and having to take different ideas that float around in my head and compress them into something meaningful forces me to put effort into the game. With school and everything it’d be very easy to let my game slip, to allow enough rust to accumulate that I’d never be able to get it off. Magic, though, is important to me, and because even in off-weeks I have to come up with something to write about, I have to keep my finger on the pulse.

Also, writing is hard. I didn’t really believe it until I started a weekly, but man. Sometimes there is just nothing to talk about, and other times you’re under so many NDAs that you’re paranoid about revealing anything. For awhile I wondered why I kept doing this, anyway. I mean, you always like to think people are listening to you, but the Internet is such that everybody lets you know when something’s wrong without ever acknowledging that you might be onto something. Then there was the Spaniel incident, and I truly had no idea if what I was saying was getting through. But something like Daytona comes and people talk to me, tell me I’m really resonating, at least every once in awhile, and then it all comes together. So to everyone who stopped by to tell me they appreciated this column, who wanted me to sign card and playmats and talk about this or that, I can’t thank you enough.

Slash sob story unlash.

It used to be every week that I’d go an entire page without writing any content. I haven’t ran that in a few months or so, so I trust you’ll forgive that little tirade.

So the two things I’m best at, as long-time readers will know, are talking about myself and whining*. It makes sense to close out the year with a little bit of both. I’ve taken care of the first, and I might as well get on with the second.

I’m surprised, really, there wasn’t as much as an uproar in the writing community about the removal of Pro Club Level 3 appearance checks. I figured it was the perfect recipe for scandal. But it seems like Wizards cut the issue off at the pass with their little explanation shortly after Worlds, and all that remained were a few murmurs.

That’s not enough.

I’ll start out by saying that I totally understand Wizards’ perspective on the issue. Taking away $500 a tournament from every Level 3 will save them a lot of money, and because these aren’t the all-star players it’s not very costly to them from a PR perspective. Moreover, it’s not like the Level 3s are going to stop playing. My issue is with the way it was handled, and with how little of a say next year’s Level 3s had in the decision-making process.

I’ll go ahead and say that I’m plenty biased, as both Steve Sadin and Fried Meulders are two of my best friends on the Tour. So if you’re going for an objective analysis, you’re not going to get it here. But several different Level 3s have told me I ought to say something, and at the very least I empathize with their position.

Put simply, there’s absolutely no reason Wizards couldn’t have given players at least a three or six month advance notice about the change in Players’ Club benefits.

I’m not even going to tackle the issue of whether or not the change is fair, because that truly doesn’t matter. It’s not like Wizards owes anyone money because they are good at Magic cards. I will say that it’s pretty convenient that WoTC can cut the Worlds payout and the Players’ Club money at the same time as Versus starts to tank, but that’s totally their prerogative. Moreover, if I had to choose one or the other I’d rather them cut benefits at the lower end of the spectrum, because it’s easier for them to market stars and it’s truly better for the game to give players incentives to become superstars. It’s feasible (if not convenient, at least), for instance, for any Level 6 to travel to any tournament in the world if they want to. It needs to stay that way.

The problem is that a substantial amount of today’s Level 3s budgeted their entire next year based on an extra $2500 that they assumed was going into their pockets.

You can say “that’s tough,” and sure, it is. The problem with that is that we’re all gamers. We all understand expected value and return. And so for someone who has, say, seventeen or eighteen points in October, it becomes a really good bet to spend $1100 on a plane ticket to Australia (or something) under the assumption that it’s very likely to turn into $2500 the next year, plus whatever prizes you might win at the Grand Prix. The entire Pro Club system is incentivized such that, as the year comes to a close, players can assign appropriate importance to the year’s last several tournaments and know exactly how to perform. When you show up to a Magic tournament, the idea is that you’re supposed to know when the tournament starts exactly what each finish is worth. It’s kind of an unspoken contract.

To understand that intellectually and to announce nothing in spite of that is to disrespect a good portion of next year’s potential Level 3s. Even if you’re financing your next year responsibly, the announcement a couple of weeks ago can all of the sudden put you a couple thousand dollars in the hole.

“Wizards doesn’t owe you anything” you could say, and you’d be right – sort of. The issue is that they wouldn’t have lost anything by letting people know that, sure, they could go all-in to gravy train, but it might not pay out as much as they thought it would before. To turn benefits on at Worlds only to suddenly announce a complete one hundred eighty degree policy reversal just seems excessive. Why not pay, say, $250 in Kuala Lumpur and Hollywood as kind of a transition phase to ease the blow? Why, if you don’t want to emphasize the fact (for PR reasons) that you’re cutting money do you at least not send out emails to people over, I don’t know, 15 Pro Points that they won’t be receiving appearance fees for the next year. Even at a bare minimum, Wizards should have definitely made this announcement before the beginning of the Kuala Lumpur PTQ season, so that players wouldn’t bypass PTQs close to home that they could have won to offset travel costs. There is just no reason that shouldn’t have happened.

This is to say nothing about how awkward it is that our Worlds finalists can’t attend the very next tournament.

So, to be clear, I have no problem with Wizards doing what they need to do to stay financially stable. They’re a company, after all, like the announcement said. But it seems like there could have been many better ways of handling the transition, of communicating the policy to the very people who are most affected by it, and the fact that Wizards consciously chose not to do so is very upsetting.

I would like some cheese, yes.

I’ll close on a holiday note. Most people give thanks at, um, Thanksgiving, and sure, you can run that. But I find the end of the year a good time to reflect on what’s happened, how we’ve handled the last twelve months, whether our lives are headed in the right direction and what we may or may not need to do to change that. I want to express publicly how great Magic has been to me. I’ve met some amazing people this past year, people who have become my best friends. I’ve seen beautiful places that I‘d never have been able to enjoy otherwise. So to everyone who plays this game and enjoys it, I urge you to reflect on what Magic’s meant to you the last year or so. Appreciate what we’ve got, what this community has given us. We’re lucky, you know.

I’m glad to continue this column, for one. And to battle. And, if I’m lucky, to make it.


* Well, and trying (poorly) to impersonate Tim Aten, but he’s coming down to Memphis for New Years so I’ll get that taken care of as well.