I was thinking about calling this column "The Arena Debacle, Pt. II" but I suspect that there’s probably a few more people out there playing Friday Night Magic than Arena; heck, there’s probably a lot of folks out there who haven’t even heard of Arena. But anybody who’s played Magic for a couple of years knows about the Arena Debacle. For those who are new to the game or need a refresher, here is the quick and dirty version:
Wizards decided to roll out a new league aimed at getting people playing Magic in their local game shop more often. There wasn’t an organized "tournament," per se; rather, the league ran over the course of several weeks, and you played anyone else who was participating whenever you happened to be in an Arena store. You accumulated points both for playing and for winning, and at the end of the season the top players would get a prize. And the prizes were nice – alternative art for popular cards like Disenchant and Fireball. The league enjoyed widespread participation and players had a blast.
Then somebody had the bright idea to offer oversized cards as prizes. Not coincidentally, Arena attendance dropped dramatically – who really wanted these oversized cards anyway? It wasn’t as if you could actually play with them. I know that myself, and many other people loudly begged Wizards to listen up and stop offering stupid prizes for Arena, but by the time they got a clue and started offering foil cards a year or so later, Arena was on life support and hasn’t been the same since. Wizards took a great opportunity to energize the Magic community and squandered it.
Flash forward to Friday Night Magic, a new attempt at giving the more casual players a pseudo-organized tournament environment. The format is much more like that which the average tournament player is used to, except it’s got an extremely low K-value (to encourage even Pro-players to participate without risking too many DCI points), and the prizes are small scale and are not only awarded to the winner, but also to the person voted "Best Sportsman" by the rest of the participants, and also to a random player who didn’t already win a prize. So, 2/3 of the prizes aren’t even tied to how well you do at all! The idea was to promote a more fun, casual environment to enjoy the game while keeping the structured tournament format. Again, much like Arena, the idea was solid, and the early prize support was appealing – the first couple of seasons of Friday Night Magic offered foil River Boas, Terrors and Uktabi Orangutans. These cards are popular, playable, non-rare cards that most everyone wouldn’t mind owning or having to trade. Fantastic prize support stirred up interest and got people playing Magic again.
Then came the next season. The prize cards? Foil Volcanic Geysers. When’s the last time you saw that in a constructed deck? Even in a casual constructed deck? Still, there was a little momentum left from the first 6 weeks of Friday Night Magic, and people were having a good time. But I noticed that we weren’t picking up any *new* players… and the regulars didn’t always make it. Attendance was slacking off.
Then came the nail in the coffin; the foil prize cards announced for the new season? Mind Warp.
Yup, the ever popular Mind Warp. This card has almost never seen constructed play, and is considered quite rude in casual play. I don’t know about you, but I think hand-destruction in casual decks is the height of crassness, and I generally refuse to play another game against it.
So, in a month’s time, Friday Night Magic has turned from being a great tool to revitalizing Magic, into another joke. Arena, Part Doh!
To top it off, in case I needed reminding of how far Arena had fallen, I played "Arena" this past weekend for the Prophecy Sneak Preview weekend promotion. You could build a sealed deck with Mercadian Masques and 3 Prophecy boosters and play others who were participating. While the prize for the weekend was mediocre (poorly made "Prophecy" deck boxes), the point was mostly just to get your hands on some Prophecy cards and play with them. But then the icing on the cake– this weekend was just the start of the new Arena season, and the prize for this season…
A foil Chill.
CHILL! A sideboard card?
Let me say it now, loud and proud:
WHOMEVER IS IN CHARGE OF PRIZE SUPPORT FOR ARENA AND FRIDAY NIGHT MAGIC NEEDS TO BE FIRED AND SLAPPED WITH A RESTRAINING ORDER TO STAY AWAY FROM ANY MAGIC EVENT, PLAYER, OR BOOSTER PACK.
Your CCG privileges have been revoked; your very presence cheapens the game and leaves an oily smell and a slime trail. You obviously have no clue what Prize Support means. Let me spell it out for you, in the hope that, if you are unjustly NOT fired, perhaps you can learn something.
Prize Support needs to be made up of prizes that people want, or else people will not participate.
People do not want Chills. They do not want Mind Warps. They do not want Volcanic Geysers. These are a complete waste of time, paper, energy, and whatever chemical you use to make it nice and shiny.
For you, the common sense impaired, I voluntarily submit a list of 6th Edition cards that would make fine prizes people would want to win. Ergo, they would participate in the events your are supporting. Ergo, the events would be a success, Magic would grow and thrive and everybody would be having a good time. A couple of critical things to keep in mind – foil *permanents* are the most desirable, because they sit out there on the board and look cool. A foil Thwart is flashed once and then hits the graveyard and is forgotten. And no sideboard cards, please…
COOL FOIL CARDS FROM 6TH EDITION:
ADARKAR WASTES, KARPLUSAN FOREST, ET. AL. – the pain lands are popular, they’re permanents, and would make great prizes. You could run these back to back and take care of your prize support for a year.
ANKH OF MISHRA – growing in popularity, with the added benefit that foil artifacts look great.
BROWSE – not hugely popular right now, but it’s a historically good card and may get better once Stroke leaves.
CITY OF BRASS – either old or new artwork would look great as a foil, and the card is popular, too.
DISRUPTING SCEPTER – another artifact to make a good looking foil out of; people have started looking at this nearly forgotten card in light of Avatar of Will…
FALLEN ANGEL – lost some popularity when Phyrexian Plaguelord hit the scene, the Angel is still a good card and should see play when Urzas rotates.
GRAVEDIGGER – a perennial favorite card for graveyard recursion.
GRINNING TOTEM – the signature card from 6th Edition, good looking artifact foil.
HIDDEN HORROR – big, ugly and bound to be a cool foil to have in a black beatdown deck.
JAYEMDAE TOME – The Book that’s been neglected, but not forgotten.
LLANOWAR ELVES – Why not?
LORD OF ATLANTIS – lots of fish are available as foils, but white-border Lords always clash. Give us a shiny black-bordered one, though…
ORCISH ARTILLERY – a staple in classic Sligh, could be decent now that red has slid back towards control again.
PSYCHIC VENOM – with Port this forgotten gem might actually shine (especially if you could slap it on someone’s foil City of Brass).
SAGE OWL – much better than a foil Impulse!
SOLDEVI SAGE – with all the tricky land stuff going on, this might actually be good again. Do *you* remember what he does?
SPIRIT LINK – cool picture, cheap "removal" that sticks around and looks good as a foil.
STAUNCH DEFENDERS – it’s been good before, it might be good again.
TRANQUIL GROVE – useful, reusable enchantment removal can be main deck good.
VERDURAN ENCHANTRESS – enchantress decks might be on the way out… but you never know.
ZUR’S WEIRDING – it doesn’t get much play, but it’s the kind of card people always seem to try and build a deck around. If they had a foil one, maybe they’d try harder.
See, that wasn’t so hard, was it? Feel free to use my ideas and stop squandering your good events with such horrid support. We, the Players, deserve more than we’re getting.