The Kitchen Table #237 – Why Some Tournament Players Don’t Get it

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Thursday, June 12th – Although I find the name “Mythic Rare” to be a bit ostentatious, the idea of a super rare has become industry standard for a while. Last year, WizKids moved to the more traditional common/uncommon/rare/super rare model, and their sales increased as a result. You simply cannot argue with facts.

Bonjour mes amis! Welcome back to your regularly scheduled Abe, already in progress.

Before I begin today’s topic, I want to briefly tell you a story about how Richie Proffitt changed my life.

I had written Revelations of a Magic Writer (if you haven’t read it, then please do so right now before I talk about my story, as it is important information) but had never considered it for publication. After it was published here, a lot of people told me how it reminded them of Ritchie’s similar revelations in an article of his own.

What I have never told anybody was that I had written Revelations prior to reading Richie’s article, and it was only after reading Richie’s words that I decided to offer it for publication. I didn’t publish it for a while. It took a lot of hemming and hawing on my part before I submitted it to Ted.

After publishing it online, I decided to become more open in my life about my future. As such, I told my staff of my illness, and the folks at Eastern Michigan University, and I recently told all of my old friends on MySpace. I became more open, and am more comfortable now, that I was before, and Richie was the catalyst for that.

I never met Richie, but I am sure that we would have been two kindred spirits, both young men and avid fans of Magic facing futures that are cloudier than most. Therefore, I felt it appropriate to share this story with you this week of all weeks.

Now let’s hit up the rest of the article.

Before I tell you what today’s article is about, allow me to discuss the hot topic of the day, from the perspective of a casual writer.

Wizards of the Coast has announced that they will be joining the rest of civilization (virtually… there are a few holdouts like Legend of the Fire Rings) and adding super rares to sets with a spiffy orange/red expansion symbol. They will also be producing fewer cards in each set.

I’ll discuss each point in turn.

The Mythic Rares

Although I find the name “Mythic Rare” to be a bit ostentatious, the idea of a super rare has become industry standard for a while. Last year, WizKids moved to the more traditional common/uncommon/rare/super rare model, and their sales increased as a result. You simply cannot argue with facts. HeroClix sales increased when they moved to an industry standard.

When you are the first game on the block, an interesting thing happens. Other games learn from your mistakes, and then they institute technology designed to make their products better. WizKids broke new ground with Mage Knight, and then other collectible miniature products were released, with new technology. Similarly, Wizards of the Coast was the first on the block with Magic, but later games improved on the tech of making a game.

This is not the first time that Wizards has moved to address a need in the game. They added the collector number at the bottom of cards so that you could more easily collect a set. They added color-coded expansion set symbols so that you could tell the commonality of a card. They added foils to the game to increase its collectability. They made the base set black-bordered (and we’ll see if that is a change that sticks pretty soon). They added expansion symbols to base sets so that you could figure out which base set your Giant Growth is from. They added foil to the packaging so that you could not read what cards were inside the pack. They streamlined the rules in Sixth Edition, simplifying the game in numerous major ways, which brought the game more in line with other game systems’ level of difficulty.

As the industry gets better and better about producing games, Magic needs to change to meet those changes. That’s how you stay on top. Imagine that none of the changes I listed above had ever happened. No foils. No expansion set coloration. No collector’s number. No change to the pack to keep you from seeing the cards inside. Still the same old complicated rules system.

Would Magic still be the number 1 game today? I doubt it. The packaging system alone probably would have killed it.

Magic is moving in an obvious direction with the super rares. I don’t mind it. Yes, it might make collecting a few of the new cards difficult to do, but the reward is worth it, I think.

Fewer Cards

Now, let’s look at the other part of the change. Fewer cards.

I consider myself a very rational person. If you saw the results from my Meyers-Briggs personality test, you might wonder if I have any feelings at all. One hundred percent T, that’s me. (The test scores you on four scales, and one scale is the Feeling/Thinking scale, symbolized by F and T). My reactions are pretty rational. When I saw a bunch of people react to Wizards of the Coast’s news that they were changing things, I saw emotional reactions. Some even questioned whether Wizards would do as they promised and keep cards like Thoughtseize out of the Mythic Rare section. Come on! Trust has been earned by Wizards over the years, with quality product over and over again. I trust them.

However, just because I trust them does not mean I won’t tell them when I honestly think they are wrong. I defend and attack with equal aplomb.

And I think they are just plain wrong about the number of cards they produce.

I know they have done surveys and received e-mails and so forth. I admit that they are professionals and I am an amateur… but I still believe they are wrong.

There are two parts to their “fewer cards” plan. The first is that a lot of current players gripe about the number of sets each year, and how much the hobby costs. A lot of current players cannot keep up. However, I have tons of friends who play Magic and don’t buy boxes and boxes of the latest product; they instead buy the cards they want, trade for some new cards, and then move on. Players who truly have issues with the number of cards being printed are still playing, and simply not buying boxes and boxes of product. These friends wouldn’t buy boxes of product even if you slashed the number of cards printed in half.

Some players love purchasing new product, exploring new cards, and I am one of those people. I like new cards. I like investigating new cards. I like playing new cards. I like adding new cards to Abe’s Deck of Happiness and Joy. I think we aren’t making enough cards, and I would love to see an actual casual-only set someday that doesn’t have the silly Un- theme, which I believe limits sales.

Some players are unable or unwilling to purchase a bunch of new cards, but that’s okay, because they are still playing and having fun.

I’ve heard people complaining about the speed of expansion sets during my entire time playing Magic (that’s since The Dark, for those interested). Even when sets were released very slowly, people were complaining. Reduce the number of cards in sets, and they will still complain.

I don’t think it will appreciably increase sales from current players. That’s okay, because there is another target audience for the change. New players. Supposedly new players will have fewer cards to learn and digest.

You don’t think the intimidating amount of product in a store will discourage new players? Some stores have thirty different expansion sets behind the counter, and even small stores have a dozen. Do you think that new players will see a smaller number after the slash in the collector’s number at the bottom, and will breathe easy? Releasing fewer sets might help newer players, but reducing the number of cards per set? I doubt that will.

Therefore, I believe that decreasing the number of cards produced per year will hurt players like me, and not help new players stick to the game or try the game out.

By the way, there is a disadvantage to printing fewer cards. Wizards has pointed out that different Magic players have different interests in the game, and thus print different cards to meet these various interests. With fewer cards per set, there are going to be a smaller number of cards allocated to assuage these interests. As a closet Johnny, what happens when the number of true Johnny cards in a set drops below five? Will I even buy it?

Oh, and by the way, adding a basic land to the commons is a horrible slap to drafting. I love drafting, and I hate basic sets because they have one less common. It increases the likelihood of a bad pack, and increases the luck factor of a pack as a result.

One more thing to comment on before I join the rest of the article. Wizards said they will be using their experiences with making core sets in making expansion sets now. I hope this means one thing, and does not mean the other:

1). It makes the core set less about complexity. I want to see the base set with numbers of protection, trample, and other abilities, and since Wizards now recognizes that most players don’t start here, why continue to keep it simple?

2). It does not mean the expansion sets are getting dumbed down. Frankly, I would be very upset if we lived in a world where every expansion set looks like the base set in terms of difficulty and complexity of the cards. I doubt Magic players want dumbed down sets. Please, please, please do not make this mistake.

And with that, I now return to the regularly scheduled article:

It’s About Time

There are a few divides in Magic. Netdeckers versus Rogues. Old Players versus Newbs.

But there is another divide.

Casual versus Tournament.

Up front, let me tell you that I don’t believe in this divide. I know some people think it’s there, but I don’t believe there is an actual divide in Magic between any group of players. Perceptions may vary, however.

I know that there are some casual players who look down on tournament players, and I know that there are some tournament players who look down on casual players. But it’s time for the tournament players to knock it off, because they hog a lot of the Internet chatter, and are thus very visible.

I am in an unusual position as a casual writer. We all know that the vast majority of Magic players are casual, but that the vast majority of Internet writers and readers are tournament players. (I use the term “tournament” instead of “competitive” because many casual players are quite competitive, trying hard to win at their tables.)

As such, I am in a minority and a majority at the same time. There’re not many casual writers left on StarCityGames.com… perhaps I am one of a dying breed.

I have never really viewed the supposed divides in Magic as real. I think some players have attitudes about other sections of players, but I don’t think any real divide exists. Still, I recognize that some have those attitudes. And they need to knock it off. On both sides. But remember, the vocal ones on the Internet are typically the bad apples among the tournament players, because tournament players are the vocal ones online, as writers, bloggers, forum posters, and so forth.

I have written over 275 articles on Magic once you add my daily articles. I have never written this article. Perhaps I should have. Perhaps I should have written this much, much sooner.

Before I begin, I want to remind readers that I admit, some casual players have this weird anti-tournament vibe going on. I admit this up front. I am not going to be attacking casual players in this article, but they are not blameless. No group of people is blameless here. There is good and bad in any collection of humanity. That’s just our nature. But it is also our nature to rise above what we are.

I am going to show you various examples of anti-casual rhetoric. Some anti-casual rhetoric is mean, hateful, and spiteful, while other examples are more dismissive and haughty. I’ll show you both. As I use forum posts as examples, I will not provide the names, since those people were not getting paid to write, and since they are anonymous anyway.

The Unwashed Masses

Just for fun, I decided to reference some forum posts from hot topics. Most are from other sites, and all are in the past month. Note that lots of idiots post on forums, hiding behind anonymity. However, such posts do show biases, especially if such biases are spouted with regularity. None of these posts are by the same nick.

“… and since we all know that casual players can’t even spell Magic…”

“I was matched up agianst [sic] some pr*ck with a suspend counterspell deck. He actually won with a deck I wouldnt [sic] take to FNM.”

“Akroma might be good against the kiddies, but she is crap when playing against people like me.”

“I’s [sic] raped by that dude with that stupid casual elf deck. He didn’t even test it!”

“… if you play it anywhere, even at the multi cicle, [sic] you are dumb.”

“The chick ended up winning the prize and it was her FIRST TIME in a tournament! I was pissed, to say the least.” (Abe’s note: this quote could be anti-casual, or just misogynistic. Or both. I’ll leave it up to you to decide)

“If I didn’t have a bad hand, I would have showed that casual player how we treat them here.”

You might remark that a few recent forum posts is hardly proof that there is an attitude out there in some tournament players. And you’d be right. I have neither the time nor the inclination to peer through archive after archive of writers to see if I can find discriminatory language in their articles, or posts from others. However, I don’t need to. Because there is a case from last year that proves my point.

The Evan Erwin Case

Before I begin, let me talk to you about Evan Erwin. We go back years, to before his days as a Magic writer, when we played a game called Star Chamber. He as a major figure in the game, and we were introduced then. He was a great guy even then. We would even talk about Magic in the Star Chamber client. Fun stuff. If I had my own company and created a CCG, I’d offer Evan a job in my R&D department. Evan is the only Magic writer on my friends list on MySpace.

Evan is not writing in the casual world. Although he is not this super great name from Pro Tour, he is not writing casual fare. He is writing tournament articles. You are not usually seeing articles on alternate formats, multiplayer, and casual topics from him. Instead, you are reading (or seeing in his case), articles on metagames, the current environment, tournaments, etc.

Imagine my surprise when he won a slot to the Magic Invitational.

Imagine the horror of the elite, rallying against him.

Now you remember…

No issue has divided or focused on the vitriol that many tournament players feel toward the casual crowd than when Evan was given a slot. They were up in arms, and their posts (and sometimes articles) were filled with venom-laced epithets. Many of these posts were by tournament players on the Pro Tour, or at high levels in the tournament world. Some of the nastiest posts I have read in the history of Magic were launched by tournament players who hated seeing Evan make the Invitational… and he wasn‘t even a casual writer.

Imagine if a casual writer like myself or Anthony Alongi had gotten the nod. If they used the worst possible words against a guy who is writing tournament articles, they probably would have sent viruses to an actual casual writer.

This was arguably the single greatest achievement in Evan’s Magic career, and instead of congratulations (or just staying quiet), they attacked and attacked. How much do you have to hate a person or idea in order to do that?

I don’t want to wash all anti-casual sentiment with the same brush. And I am not accusing all tournament players of the same sort of sentiment as these idiots achieved. What I do want to point out is that this attitude is still out there to this day. These folks just don’t get it.

Maybe they never will.

At the end of an article about what Wizards of the Coast could learn from WizKids, I pointed out what Magic is all about. Knowing that, you are able to act and react in an appropriate manner.

I don’t think the anti-casual element among tournament writers and readers gets it. I don’t believe they have realized the foundation of Magic. Ask them, and they are likely to answer with “winning” or “having fun.” Magic has never been about those things, and hopefully never will be. It is about something greater. It fits a need that we have as humans. If it didn’t, then it would have died out a long time ago.

What is this essential element of Magic? What is vital to its success? What is it that some tournament players just don’t understand?

Magic is about Community.

Without it, the game is nothing.

Until later…

Abe Sargent