FINAL JUDGEMENT: Resurrection In The Wasteland

Sheldon arrived to find a dead tourney scene – but in a year, we had record tourney attendance. We asked him how he did it; you might wanna listen hard.

What a difference a year makes. Forty-nine players showed up for the Alaskan Regionals. You Los Angeleses and Bostonses, might scoff at such numbers – but for us, it’s a great turnout, the largest ever outside of a prerelease. And it’s a 490% improvement over last year. How did it happen? That’s exactly what Ferrett has asked me to tell you.

When we got here, there was no Magic scene to speak of. There were a few pockets of players, but no organization. The Prophecy Prerelease ran the first weekend we were here (under a different Tourney Official). There were thirty-two players. Weeks later came the ill-fated Regionals with ten players. Local players told me of "the old days," when there was a 100-player prerelease. I decided then and there that Magic would once again live here in the largest state in the union.

When I want answers without bias, I turn to my wife Lisa. I asked her what she thought was important to our success here; she said that promoting the game was the key. I went out and dug up the game. I played, I promoted. I went to shops and talked up the game. I scheduled tournaments. I went thirty miles out of town to the only real population center outside of Anchorage (other than Fairbanks) and did some gunslinging. I brought back players who had completely given up.

The tallest order of business was uniting the community. There is a Big Shop and a Little Shop* here in Anchorage, and most of the players were loyalists to one or the other. I played for a few weeks at the Little Shop because it stayed open later, and I could usually find three or four players there – it’s where I met Ferrett and David Phifer. (Well, technically he met us online, but that’s where we played – The Clarifying Ferrett) Magic is only a small part of the Big Shop’s business, so staying open until all hours wasn’t in their plans. I realized that neither place was going to be where things were going to happen. I had to find neutral ground. I had to find a place to make our own. What a place I found.

Across the street from a popular combination Brewhouse/Theatre sits The Cyber Cup. It’s clean, centrally-located, and the owners were more than open to a group of card players coming in. They’re business-owners who know customer service and use terms like "whatever you want." People are drawn there. On Fridays, the barrista is a fabulous young woman named Lydia (in Magic terms, Lydia is "some good"). Lydia treats us like gold, makes great coffees, and keeps the place open late for us. It was win-win. We had a place to play; they had additional regular clientele. Moreover, it’s the type of place that attracts the type of people that play Magic; it is, after all, a cybercafe.

Having procured a suitable site, I had to get people there. I beat the bushes to find them. As soon as I started inviting them, they started coming. As soon as they came, they stayed. Not everyone every week, but a rotation of 10-12 players showed up for multiplayer. Players from the Big Shop and the Little Shop. The rift was healing, and the time came for transition to phase two: keeping things together.

It became obvious that what the community wanted and needed was a presence, someone with the wherewithal to keep it together. Lisa says this is the second key. What’s made me most successful in this regard is enlightened self-interest coupled with a lack of business need. I wanted to have a good Magic community so that I could play frequently with good players, but I don’t own a shop; I’m not constrained by some of the same things that hinder shop owners – namely, the need to make a profit. All I need to do is organize and provide stability. Money can’t alienate me from the local playing community, as I know it has with storeowners and players through the history of the game.

What aided this further along is my strong Magic foundation. Anchorage finally had an authority figure. There were no more capricious judgments at tournaments, no more rules arguments. There was a place the player could turn for answers; the Magic community had a voice and an anchor.

All the while, I kept cultivating relationships. I ignored the warnings that the Big Shop hated Magic. I engaged them and challenged them to help promote the game. They responded in a big way. For the first Prerelease we did together, they provided a suitable space, rented all the tables and chairs, and fed my entire staff for the day; there wasn’t much more I could ask of them. They were partners on the Planeshift Prerelease and Regionals as well, and they keep giving me more than I ask for.

The final piece of the puzzle was bringing regular DCI-Sanctioned events back to Anchorage. Every Friday night, we run an event, rotating Standard and Limited formats, at The Cup. Almost immediately, our attendance doubled from ten to twenty.

Best of all, the environment isn’t any different from when we were just playing casually. Everyone is just as friendly, just as fun. There are no attitude problems, no rules cheesers, no win-at-all-costs mentalities. It’s nearly perfect.

How did I resurrect Magic in the frozen north? Certainly not by myself. It took great people willing to come back to a great game. All I did was spread the fever of the game by continually talking about and demonstrating how wonderful it is. I gave away thousands of cards, made contacts, and grew friendships. I found out that Magic wasn’t dead in Alaska, it was just sleeping. All I did was nudge it awake.

And that’s my Final Judgement
Sheldon K. Menery