Subcultures are fascinating. The human psyche and its effect on social preference, and by extension personal comfort, creates a web in the mind of each
individual that is so vast and yet so personalized that we can organize our worldwide tribe of seven billion into an infinite number of smaller groups.
Street performers. Freerunners. Those barefoot people who really love Phish.
The SCG Open in Portland recently was, in a way, a goodbye to a large part of the subculture that I spent a tremendous amount of time with over the last
few years, a group to which I’ve belonged since I was twelve.
The imagined Magic player is an amorphous fellow, a combination of the intellectually hungry and the generic nine-to-five beer buddy. Occasionally, his
beard is out of control, but on other occasions, he wears his tie sharp. Sometimes he talks Tom Ross leather jacket smooth, but other times, he’s a man of
many numbers who speaks only in mathematical certainties and provocative questions. Sometimes he is American angry and at others, Japanese polite. Often,
he isn’t a he at all, but a calendar-carrying mother of two or a giggly fourteen-year old pixie with little cat ears.
I don’t know if there was ever a time when the Magic player was always the unhygienic academic, the so-called basement nerd. I don’t know what kind of
people I would’ve bought cards from all these weekends had they taken place in 1998 and not in 2011.
But for the last three years, I’ve shaken hands with husbands and wives and mothers and sons. And I’ve enjoyed it.
The title of this piece promised observational wisdom regarding our subculture and thus, I am obliged:
The Minority Player Gap is Almost Extinct in Some Places and Embarrassingly Present in Others
There are many Open Series cities where diversity permeates. Open Series weekends in places like Orlando and Portland are especially lush with a variety of
players who all look as perfectly comfortable at their table as they do in their own skin. On the other hand, there are locations where there is an
apparent barrier to entry if you’re not a member of the majority demographic.
There’s no reason to section off a map and monitor contrived growth perceptions, but if two sorts of tournament/store environments exist–the welcoming
versus the ostracizing–it is crucial for each individual to contribute to their community being one of the former. The long-term health of the game we’re
all invested in depends not just on Hasbro bottom lines or the work of the people in Renton but in how well-represented our subculture is on a smaller
isolated level. How many interested parties, both men and women, have left a card shop disgusted never to return because someone laughed as they used the
term “rape”? How many players quit because being the black player or the gay player was the only thing at their local store they were allowed to be?
Magic brings incalculable amounts of joy, and there are good people that would enjoy it if given the opportunity. We owe it to our game to be welcoming. We
owe it to ourselves.
Variance is the Most Undeservingly Vilified Part of Tournament Magic
Quite simply put, if Magic was always won by the best player, nobody would play it. It would be a game that few had ever heard of, and about sixty people
worldwide would bother with it more than a few times.
It is an advantage to have a network of strong, experienced players to help you prepare for a weekend. It is an advantage to have three byes and to spend
the day on Magic Online instead of working a cash register somewhere. Playtesting matters. Practice matters.
So why bother to show up if you don’t have those things?
Because it doesn’t matter that much. Every weekend, seasoned Magic veterans show up with every weapon they could possibly have at their disposal.
And every weekend, a few of those people go 0-2 drop because the dad with two jobs finally got a day off and thought it’d be fun to go up the road forty
minutes and unwind with a Goblin Charbelcher instead of his golf clubs. This is one of the only games in existence that has the strategic depth to reward
those willing to grind themselves down to a mental nub while still giving any given kid with a deck and an entry fee a shot at a trophy. You won’t find
that in pro sports. You won’t find that in backyard kickball. Yes, it can be frustrating, but it’ll only take until your eight-year old kid beats you for
the first time to really embrace how wonderful variance is.
There is a Large Misconception about What Working in Magic Actually Consists of
While I won’t spend too much time on this one, I do want to touch on it. About once or twice a weekend, someone will get curious and ask about working as a
Buyer. I assume similar situations are true for the SCG Live boys and the Judge/Events folks. The explanations for this interest are mostly similar with
one almost universal truth: people want a job that isn’t a job.
That isn’t a judgment. That isn’t even necessarily related to Magic. Freedom from workaday obligation is a collective human fantasy, and it is perfectly
okay to have.
Gerry Thompson talked at length on CEDTalks
recently about his time at Wizards and a bit of the perspective he had in his role there in working with Magic. I won’t speak for him, but the session is
great food for thought for anyone trying to get a job involving Magic cards. I do not think the “job that isn’t a real job” mentality applies to Gerry in
the least as I’ve seen firsthand how hard he works at everything he does. The piece is, however, good for insight on how differently the idea of working
with Magic is compared to the real world experience of actually working with it.
The unfortunate truth is that as cool as Magic is, working with it is still very much a job. Like anything else, it has great moments and it has difficult
ones. Like anything else, it takes a combination of who you know, what you know, and luck to get involved. There’s a reason that most of the staff you see
at Opens are not fresh out of college; they’re people who have developed skills, careers, and relationships in a variety of ways that happened to lead them
to their current work.
The vast majority of time spent on the circuit is beside lonely airplane windows, at rental car counters, in convention halls, on long and vaguely familiar
late night roads, and in the only restaurants that stay open past midnight. The hours are long and the sleep is erratic. Playing in tournaments, or even
having the opportunity to play Magic let alone see your own home for more than one or two days out of seven, can be rare. Myself and the lovely people I
work with appreciate the unique work we’ve been given, and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone at SCG who isn’t smiling a lot of the time. But it is not
for the self-deluded, the unmotivated, or the unprepared.
An Extraordinarily High Percentage of the Community Consists of Kind-Hearted People
Sometimes I feel like the way our community views itself and its members is a microcosm of humankind at large. The screenshot of a hate-spewing rage
quitter on MTGO that gets passed around social media has a lot in common with a Breaking News report about yet another gunfire gone wrong incident in a
public place. But the truth of the matter is, when you walk through your neighborhood or you go somewhere for dinner, you almost universally encounter
polite people. Every tournament has instances of anger, of frustration, and of outright disregard for others, but for every MODO troll there are thousands
of hand-shaking good-luck-wishing opponents rendering them irrelevant. Don’t let sensationalized corner cases mar the perspective that mostly positive real
world experience has given you.
You’re a Magic player. Think in terms of statistics and percentages. Based on your years of “playtesting,” what percentage of the field in any given
tournament will be jerks?
I wouldn’t bother wasting sideboard slots on them.
The Possibility of Potential Fun with Magic is Completely Underutilized
Magic is just a game. I don’t mean that as a consolation message for when you run bad. I mean it literally.
Imagine a stack of board games sitting in your closet. Imagine that beside Monopoly, underneath Arkham Horror, tilted sideways resting beside Risk, that
there is a card game. What does the box look like? What cards are inside it? What is the game about? How many players can play it?
Magic has rules. That’s the hard part that has been put into place for all of us. Aside from that though, it can be whatever game you want.
Commander and Cube escaped their obscurity and “made it big,” but there are millions of us playing this game. What else can we do? Out of the tens of
thousands of cards, less than a single-digit percent see tournament level play. Why do we have all these other cards if we won’t use them?
I often contemplate the notion of what pure Magic looks like. If you take away the business model and the growth, if you have only a vacuum in which to
build a game using Magic’s rules and a few decks of cards, what cards would you use? How many tournament-level cards would there be? How many of the most
fun Magic cards in existence are sitting on shelves never to be sleeved?
Speaking of community, this is a good place for its collective input. If you were designing Magic as a self-contained game, a game you’d play with your
grandmother when she got bored of Yahtzee, a game you played with your children when the power went out and there was no TV to watch, what would it look
If you were on a desert island with one other game-loving person, what kind of Magic would last you the rest of your life?
On that note, I owe thanks to all the people I’ve worked with and for on the road over the last three years. The memories are the greatest of my
professional life. I’m looking forward to trying new things with Star City and with Magic now that I may have some time to FNM again! I’m also looking
forward to continuing Commander VS work with David McDarby, and when I’m
around at a tournament, putting oh-so many more black marker hearts onto your beautiful Elesh Norns.
Lastly, thank you to all my friends on the road. It made me happy when you remembered my name, especially if we had only met once.