From the Editor’s Desk – Clearing the Air About StarCityGames.com Premium

Something happened on Monday that you might have heard about. Lend me your ear for a few minutes today and I’ll discuss all of this, as openly and frankly as I can. There is a lot of misinformation out there perpetrated by people who are understandably hurt and frustrated, and I want to clear up as much as I can right now.

Greetings, salutations – how the hell are you? The last three months have been absolutely ridiculous for me (as many of you have seen). Columbus, Australia and Japan, Cali, Chicago, Japan, a StarCityGames.com “Power Nine” event – more Japan. My wife has taken a new man to keep her warm at night and my cats have officially forgotten who I am, as have many of my former readers who haven’t bothered to read the event coverage on MagictheGathering.com. Oh yeah, and something happened on Monday that you might have heard about. Lend me your ear for a few minutes today and I’ll discuss all of this, as openly and frankly as I can. There is a lot of misinformation out there perpetrated by people who are understandably hurt and frustrated, and I want to clear up as much as I can right now.

StarCityGames.com Goes Premium

I’ll be as honest as I can with you here, but we’re still a business and some information that went into this decision is not available for public consumption, though it has clearly been the subject of public speculation, most of which is incorrect. When I took control of the editing duties in 2003, I didn’t expect this day to ever come, and I have mixed feelings about it now that it’s here. I’ll be honest with you – I liked StarCityGames.com as the community site who was always the scrappy underdog in bidding for Pro players and writers. It gave the site a nice edge, always seemed a little more special when we had great achievements, and being the center of the Magic community (outside of mtg.com of course) is a great place to be.

Some of that has changed – most of it has not.

We’re still going to have our edge, we’re still going to achieve great things, and we’re still going to work our asses off to be the center of the Magic community. For those of you who want to stay on the free side, we’re taking steps to make sure you have as much content as you always had. It won’t be by the same writers necessarily, but over the years we have been awesome at developing writers players want to read. We’re going to continue that trend, and over the next year you will see more outstanding writers added to the free side of our site. In short, we still love casual players.

For those who are interested in StarCityGames.com Premium, allow me to explain my editorial philosophy a little better so that there are no misunderstandings. We are not our competition. To that end, our writer lineup is not going to be their writer lineup, our article topics will not be their article topics, and our direction is not going to be their direction.

In every way, we will be better.

Look at the top of the page. What you see if the culmination of years worth of work on the part of Pete, The Ferrett, and myself. We’re not done folks… that’s just the beginning.

In the beginning, our articles drove traffic to our website, which encouraged people to buy cards. That worked well when the authors wrote for very little and our traffic wasn’t that big, but both our traffic and our author costs have quintupled over the past two years or so. You wanted the big names writing for us, and we got ’em for you… but there comes a point where the rate of sales increase could not keep up with the rising cost of obtaining good articles. At a certain point, we reached a threshold where we were stuck between two goals, neither of which was achievable by our current structure. It was not possible for StarCityGames.com.com to provide competitive prices on Magic singles and to also be the best Magic content site available as we formerly existed. We could get rid of the content side altogether and achieve goal number one, but that was unacceptable to everyone who works on that element of the site. Therefore Pete determined a change must come.

The decision to spin off into StarCityGames.com Premium was not an easy one, but in making the content itself a product, we feel everyone will benefit. As you can already see, we have been steadily decreasing our prices on card singles to the point that on the whole, we offer the best selection, customer service, and price points in the industry. Customers who never even glanced at the content on our front page are no longer the unfortunate recipients of the costs of that product. We are in the process of achieving goal number one.

Our second goal is actually more difficult, but as you can see at the top of the front page, we’re making strides toward that as well. Until now, my hands were often tied when signing new writers – our budget was much stricter than that of our competitors and yet we consistently provided more daily Magic content than any website in history in spite of this. In some measures, that has to be considered a success. And yet, because of the limitations of our former structure, we did not feel that we were achieving our full potential in providing reader content. We were good – hell, we were often great – but there was more that could be done. Spinning the content off as its own product allows us to further pursue the greatness we could not reach before. Those of you who love our article content – particularly the top-notch theory strategy by the game’s best players and writers – have been asked to subscribe to the website in order to obtain that content. We do not feel the burden of our subscription charge is onerous – we plan to give you approximately 40 Premium articles a month to choose from in return, and even if you are only reading half or a third of those, that’s considerably more than you would get from most magazine subscriptions.

You want more? You will get more, just watch and see…

For those who are uninterested in the subscription content, we are not abandoning you. You will continue to receive plenty of free content and we plan to add more total content to our pages in the coming months as well. As I said before, we believe that the changes we have put in place will benefit all of the patrons of StarCityGames.com and allow us to not only keep our place as an industry and community leader, but better it as well.

As for our editorial decisions, this website was founded on finding good writers. I’m not changing that. For those complaining that some of the writers you are seeing on our page don’t belong as “Premium”, I think you are wrong and I think the quality of content for those writers proves it. I’m sure many of you have seen articles over the years where the Pros phone it in when discussing formats they aren’t playing or don’t care about. It doesn’t happen on this site with any frequency, but I know I’ve seen it and I imagine you have too. Not so for the guys who are battling in the trenches, looking for that last scrap of tech to put them over the top and land them on the Pro Tour. Even if you don’t think these guys have “the pedigree” to teach you something, I have learned over the years that they often turn out better product than the guys making the big bucks and they are more entertaining to read as well.

You want to know about States and Regionals? You don’t go asking Kai or Kibler about it – we’ve seen from past history that Pros often have good ideas for Standard but don’t test them enough to perfect them because they aren’t playing that format. No, if you want to know about what to play for States or Regionals, ask Jim Ferraiolo or myself (or VA State runner-up John Upton or NY State Champion Michael Clair or…).

At States in 2001, Jim made the Top 8 with a R/G/B control deck completely of his own design. Regionals 2002 we had one of the earliest and best U/G/x Madness decks and went on to wreak havoc at the Mid-Atlantic Regionals posting nearly an 80% win rate among the team, even when we were bad players. At States 2002, we gave you an innovative W/B Astral Slide deck (The Ralphie Treatment) that later went on to qualify Jim for U.S. Nationals. At States 2003, we worked on one of the earliest and best pre-Ravager builds of Affinity – something light years better than what Kai had proposed, and at Regionals 2004 I was part of the testing team that developed Flores’s W/g Control deck into a real contender, one that would later let Brian Kibler make the Top 8 of U.S. Nationals. Then at States 2004, Jim and I played different decks and quietly came out with two of the best archetypes around – Mono-Blue Control and R/G Legends. I credit Flores for the Mono-Blue base, but the R/G decklist was all Jim’s and was remarkably similar to what Adrian Sullivan and Brian Kowal developed out in Wisconsin, a deck you are still seeing played today. For those who care, I gave out the decklist for the Mono-U deck ahead of time – no sitting on tech for me, nossir.

In short, by discounting some of the guys you saw on the front page this week as losers and not worth your money, you are also discounting leaders in deck development of innovative Standard decks (and often Extended and Block decks) for the last four years. I think if you simply give these guys a chance, you’ll realize that what they have to say is well worth your money, but even if you don’t, you’ll still have plenty of other names to choose from. More pros are on the way…

In addition, I’ve heard some people worrying that the Premium side will consume everything, to the point where you’ll have nothing good without a subscription. Again, total booshwah. What people forget is that in the end, we’re still making the majority of our money by selling cards to you. If we make it so that you get nothing without that golden ticket, then people start leaving and not coming back, and we lose money. It’s in our interests to keep this site from becoming the Golden Wasteland (even as it’s in our best interest to absolutely knock your socks off if you’re a Premium member). The non-Premium side of the site will continue to have good authors and good strategy, and I know that Ferrett’s next project is something that will benefit everyone. Plus, we have something in the works that will hopefully kickstart the casual side of things; watch this space for details.

Management at StarCityGames.com this week has largely been reviled in the forums, to a degree that often startled even me, and I was fully expecting the backlash. Many of you feel that you lost something you valued, and I understand that – StarCityGames.com as it existed before Monday was an excellent place to be, but we had to change it to get better. I hope that many of you will put the hard feelings aside and at least take a look at what we are going to provide you in the coming months. I have no doubt that we will make it worth your while to become a subscriber, whether you be a hardened PTQ player, an FNM junkie, a Limited enthusiast, or one of the growing horde of Type One players in the world.

Besides which, I know that if we ever let you down, I’m sure you’ll let me know about it. I’ll keep my flame retardant pants on just in case.