"Good is good but could be better." — Sara Evans, "I Keep Looking"
All things considered, this is a great time to be a Magic enthusiast. Tournament attendance is soaring (remember when Grand Prix Charlotte‘s record seemed invincible just four months ago?) hand-in-hand with a general expansion of the player base, Wizards of the Coast is getting good mention in parent company Hasbro’s press releases, and even the biggest issues (see: neo-Slivers) really are minor in comparison to some of the genuine existential threats Magic has faced over the years. (If you gamed through Combo Winter, you know what I mean. If you didn’t, be glad your knowledge is secondhand.)
Just because things are great, though, doesn’t mean they couldn’t be even better. I’ve accumulated a list of ideas that could improve my Magic experience in various ways. These range from the plausible to moonshots that would make a merger of Google X and the Izzet League seem grounded.
On the other hand, moonshots can pay off spectacularly, so why not try for them? Here are three, in rough order from "plausible" to "are you kidding me?" A fellow can dream, can’t he…
1. Geographical Rotation for World Magic Cup Qualifiers
This is mostly a United States issue, particularly a Southeastern United States issue, but trust me—in Texas, we’re feeling it.
The World Magic Cup Qualifiers in the USA for 2012 were held in California, Missouri (St. Louis area), and Maryland. In 2013, they were held in California, Illinois (Chicago area), and Washington, DC. Each time, roughly the same geographical areas were served: West Coast, Midwest, and East Coast.
Noticeably absent: the Gulf Coast. Texas and Florida are two of the biggest states for Magic (in 2012, when I ran the numbers, Texas was on top), but in 2013 all of Mexico’s World Magic Cup Qualifiers were closer than the U.S. event in Chicago for a Dallasite (to say nothing of a Houstonian). Washington, home of Wizards of the Coast, also has a rough time of it despite being in the top five states for World Magic Cup Qualifier eligibility in 2012.
On one hand, trying to serve the whole U.S. Magic-playing population with three World Magic Cup Qualifiers is flat-out impossible. (Hawaii and Alaska, alas, will go unrepresented unless someone wins a PTQ at Paula’s Sports Cards Etc. and proceeds to rack up the Pro Points to be National Champion.) Beyond those geographical outliers, the four largest cities in the U.S. are in New York, California, Illinois, and Texas. Good luck serving all four of them with three tournaments!
One solution I see is a rotation policy. Maybe every other year the Midwest slot switches with the Southeast; perhaps every third, Washington gets the West Coast slot. Of course, Wizards of the Coast Organized Play has far more data than I about who plays where, but from my anecdotal experience, Southeastern U.S. players could use some sorghum when it comes to World Magic Cup Qualifiers.
2. Revive the Invitational’s Prize as a Charity Event
The Invitational (last installment 2007) had an attractive premise: round up sixteen popular players of Magic, put them through a veritable Hunger Games of wacky formats, and at the end a winner stands alone, scoring his or her Magic card design (as modified by Development) and marvelous mug on a card. From Avalanche Riders to Shadowmage Infiltrator, Meddling Mage to Snapcaster Mage, the Invitational cards by-and-large made a splash and are among the most memorable of the modern game.
As Mark Rosewater wrote back in 2008, the Invitational as it was is no more, fallen to the wayside like Pro Player cards. (Helmut Summersberger won two Grand Prix events within a few months of each other and had a Worlds Top 8, but this is the most love his Pro Player card’s had in a while.) The StarCityGames.com Open Series has revived, albeit privately, the notion of high-profile players having cards with the tokens featuring Premium writers on StarCityGames.com as well as Invitational winners getting their own cards, though of course the StarCityGames.com Invitationals is rather different from the Wizards of the Coast Invitationals of yore.
Back to Wizards of the Coast and their style of Invitational, the big prize at the end was a custom card in a regular Magic set: your face, your ideas. Perhaps the Invitational as part of Organized Play didn’t work out, but what about the same prize and a small tournament for charity? Hasbro, parent company of Wizards of the Coast, is big on giving. Imagine a tournament of sixteen players who have won their places through an auction—not the Auction of the People, but a cold-hard-cash donation to charity auction. What’s the chance at a chance to make a Magic card worth to you?
Wizards could pick the location for the Invitational (the Renton headquarters, perhaps) and say, "Nope, no plane tickets. You’re getting yourself here." The only unusual expenses would be whatever comes from hosting sixteen cash-donating players at HQ, the usual army of lawyers, and the slight speed bumps that come with shaping an Invitational card in Design and Development and sending an artist a photo reference and a copy of the original Voidmage Prodigy as a cautionary reminder.
What would Magic get in return? Warm fuzzies. A fun event to recap on DailyMTG.com. A sizable aggregated check (or several smaller checks depending on how Wizards wants to handle it) donated to charity. Good public relations, a business essential. A format that’s potentially repeatable year after year.
Charity Magic tournaments have done well in the past when the cause is good (think the Richie Proffitt memorial tournament and the many prizes donated by the community as well as the entry fees). There are lots of variations Wizards could try for a small charity tournament on the order of the Invitational; I’ve only scratched the surface of what is possible.
3. The Third Un- Set, with Art Showcasing the Alterists and Unofficial Illustrators Surrounding the Game
If I’m going to ask for too much, I might as well ask for everything…
The completing "third set" of the Un- block—the follow-up to Unglued and Unhinged—is, according to Mark Rosewater Tumblr, a possibility even though it was not on the near-term planning board a couple of years ago. Taking this theoretical third set as a given, what would I like to see in it? Chicken donkeys. A card where one flips a coin and then upon winning the flip rolls a six-sided die. Love Child of Daughter of Big Furry Monster and Infernal Spawn of Infernal Spawn of Evil. (It’s coming too…on two cards in one!)
More seriously, I do see a third Un- set (I’ll call it "Unwhatever") as an excellent way to give some extremely talented illustrators who are of the community but not on the roster of on-card artists a window to appear on Magic cards. Think about the alterists out there who put out beautiful work but don’t fit with the current "look" of Magic; Eric Claar with his "blueprint" alters among many, many others. Imagine an Inkwell Looter card, or a Liz Nugent turbo-cute special, or any number of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic alterations. (Fandom already has mashed together those two Hasbro universes, so what’s to stop Hasbro from getting in on the joke in a set built around jokes? Recruit Erika Moen to make the jump from Magic skateboards to Magic cards, because why not?
Take it another step. How about discovering that your premium card is actually six in one, a three-dimensional commander in the vein of Ookubo? How about a super mythic ghost only-seventeen-in-the-whole-wide-world rare, "Your Art Here," that can be sent in to Wizards to have one of the artists for Unwhatever put you (or your family, or your pug, or…) right in the picture? The choices are endless.
There’s a wide world of art about Magic that’s branched out far beyond the illustrations commissioned for Magic cards. An Un set is the perfect opportunity to bring these artists from outside the walls into the cozy confines of the Wizards moneymaking machine.
I Was Aiming for the Sky…
Even if I ended up flat on the ground with these suggestions, the important part was putting them out there. For a big business, I’ve found Wizards of the Coast remarkably approachable. It was that way before I started writing regularly for StarCityGames.com, and while I must acknowledge that I hold a privileged position because of this column, Wizards employees are willing to listen to feedback and (non-mechanic, non-design) ideas. Remember that politeness and logical discussion are your friends, but don’t lose the passion that motivated you to get in contact with Wizards in the first place.
Didn’t like the attendance cap at Grand Prix Las Vegas? Respond via e-mail. Want to ask Doug Beyer a Vorthos question? His Tumblr is open. Begging for Zendikar 2:Electric Boogaloo? Mark Rosewater has a link every Monday at the bottom of "Making Magic." One voice can start a conversation, and one conversation can start a change. If you don’t speak up, Wizards will never know you’re there. Find your own moonshot and launch it.
As always, thanks for reading.
@jdbeety on Twitter