The Main Phase – Four Ways to Make Magic Better

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Monday, August 25th – Dear Wizards of the Coast… I have been playing with Magic cards since I was ten years old. I’ve had a great time. You have created a hobby that brings people together. But I have a few suggestions…

Dear people in charge of Magic: the Gathering, Wizards of the Coast, Hasbro and whatever other individuals that keep the game of Magic up and running…

I have been playing with Magic cards since I was ten years old, and I have to say, first and foremost: thank you. I’ve had a great time, and I continue to have a great time with the game even into my early twenties. You have created a hobby that brings people together in casual circles as well as a competitive environment that has thrived for years, all with a few little pieces of art and text. Quite a feat, if you ask me.

But I have a few suggestions.

Usually I agree with the decisions you make pertaining to Magic in general. For example, when I started playing the most current expansions were Tempest and Stronghold. I loved the game, but I had no idea the value of some cards versus others. Situations where I would get ripped off by trading away a Tradewind Rider for something of much lesser value (because lord knows I don’t need a Tradewind Rider for my burn deck) would come up much more than should happen. Then, the answer came in the next set: Exodus. With the black, silver, and gold expansion symbols, I would have a better idea as to card value. It’s changes like this that make me have faith in your decisions.

However, this year I am seeing fewer decisions that I can have faith in. Things like the unexplained cancellation of the Junior Super Series, the somewhat arbitrary addition of the new rarity to keep up with the Joneses*, and the general malaise people get when anyone says the words “Version Three” in public, are just a few of the topics I am talking about. True, most of these things are not catastrophic events. The addition of a new rarity, for example, is not going to spell our doom and may in fact be a good idea. But my point is this: everyone knew the added coloration of the rarity symbols was a good idea. Why can’t more of the changes be like that one? The transfer to the new borders with Tenth Edition, while not universally accepted at first, is now generally looked at as a resounding success. Will we refer to the new ‘Super-Rares’ as a resounding success a few years from now? I can’t know for sure, but it doesn’t really strike me as something to get extra excited about.

Look, I know you know that you know what you’re doing. You’re professionals, you can handle it. But from my perspective, there are a few things that I think you should look into doing that all have that “most everybody will think it’s a good idea” feel to them and, on a more personal level, I would like to see happen. Use them as you see fit.

#1: Make Better Magic Commercials

This one is pretty simple, yet could probably have a profound impact on the success of the brand. To be quite frank, the commercials made for Magic: the Gathering since its inception have, by and large, sucked. There are a few shining examples of good advertising (the famous ‘Bob from Accounting’ ad comes to mind), but they are few and far between.

Is it so hard to find a decent advertising company to pump Magic up? After all, Geico sells insurance. As does Aflac. Insurance, for God sakes. Not exactly the poster child for an exciting product. And they both have something like three or four successful advertising campaigns on television right now. How hard can it be to sell a card game? Apparently, it’s more difficult than I expected.

Here’s an idea: In our culture, nothing sells like a famous face (except for a pair of breasts in a tight shirt, but we don’t have many of those in Magic). So… capitalize on a few celebrities that play Magic.

Picture this commercial starring Magic pro David Williams, who, as you know, is more widely remembered for being a professional poker player:

It opens with him in a dark smoky room surrounded by men in suits at a poker table.

“It takes a calm head, strong nerves, and some quick thinking if you want to get to this table…”

Then cut to a close up of David at a feature match.

“… Some card drawing and a decent finisher don’t hurt either.”

“Hello, my name is David Williams and I play Magic: the Gathering.”

And then follow that up with a montage or something… I haven’t really thought it through the whole way, but the point is that there are a few celebrities who play Magic. David Williams is a well-known poker player. I hear comedian Christian Finnegan plays Magic from time to time. The options aren’t limitless, but they’re certainly there.

Something else, anything else but the crap you were trying to pass off as advertising in years’ past as well as now.

#2: Interconnect MTG and MTGO

I have a few ideas on how to do this, but here’s the one that I think is the easiest to implement. It’s somewhat similar to an idea Ben Bleiweiss had in an article he wrote entitled “Lessons from the WoW TCG.” In it, he talks about how the trading card game for World of Warcraft has intertwined itself with the online version in a most creative way: by rewarding the purchase of packs with UDE Points. Ben suggests Magic do something similar by transforming the Tips and Tricks cards included in many boosters into redeemable online points rather than simple proxy fodder.

This is a very good idea, and one that I would wholeheartedly support, but in the interest of not plagiarizing Ben Bleiweiss 100%, I want to take this in a different direction: tournament packs. Yes, you know tournament packs… Those things you only open at Release events and the occasional Grand Prix. Well, how about we add a little extra incentive to buy those too? And we don’t have to stop there. How about with the purchase of an Elves versus Goblins box set, a Fat Pack or even something as simple as a Preconstructed deck. Everybody buys boosters already. Diversify.

And how about instead of just giving them away like they’re Cracker Jack prizes, let’s do something a little more entertaining. Let’s treat ‘em like they’re Dr. Pepper caps. What I mean by that is instead of a one-for-one system where “This card will get you 10 points,” we have something more lottery-like, where you type in a code and you can receive any manner of cool stuff, from a Magic T-shirt to a booster box to, yes, some amount of “points.”

Oh, and if you can make it so that 10 points = X amount of MTGO tix and we can keep that a fixed value… that would be great too.

#3: Bring Back the Invitational

Wizards is really into this new five-dollar word that they found: Acquisition. This is the term they use now to refer to getting new players into the game (and to a lesser extent ‘reacquiring’ old ones that have left). In this respect, I think that the Invitational was a great marketing tool for acquisition. It was Magic’s spectacle, much like the All-Star game in sports. There isn’t really anything on the line except an MVP trophy and a bigger stage to try to convince your team to sign you to a bigger deal, but that’s about it.

Oh, but the viewership, ladies and gentlemen. People turn out like moths at a floodlight convention to see these ‘meaningless’ exhibitions. Why? Because they want to see what happens when you throw the best people into a pit just to see who comes out alive.

That was the impact the Invitational had for most people, but it had a bigger impact than that for Wizards. It was an opportunity to try out new or less popular formats, like Build Your Own Standard, Winston, and the Cube. It had all the fanfare of a PT without all the cost of flying hundreds of people into a city and feeding/housing/etc. them for a week. Also, it allowed the players to try to win something that they all aspire to: make your own card and put it in a new set. Everyone makes fake cards in their spare time for fun. The Invitational made it a possibility, even if the odds were stacked against any one person actually being the winner.

It is for these reasons that I believe the cancellation should be reversed and the Invitational be reinstated.

#4: Bring Back the JSS

This is my biggest beef with Magic right now.

Fine, you had a bad fiscal 2007. The economy of the whole country was in the toilet. The mother company got on your back about reducing spending because little brother Dreamblade got into some serious money problems and you have to dig them out. So you did: you cancelled States. You dropped a Pro Tour. You moved Worlds to Memphis when all the rumors pointed to it being in Osaka, to lower travel cost concerns. The payouts for Nats worldwide are lower. Prereleases are getting shaved down to size to cut some of those costs. All so save some money. I understand.

But now, look around. Things are back on the up and up. The economy is getting a little better. Oil prices are dropping back down like they just rotated out of Standard. And it’s showing in your company too.

If I am right, and you do have some extra lettuce in the vegetable drawer, then you know what I think is the best use of that money? The JSS. And it’s not close. Once again, I want to bring up this thing that Wizards has been stressing for a few months now, this new thing called ‘acquisition.’ Well, how better to acquire new players than by giving them an opportunity to play this game that they love for money? How better to convince their parents that this a worthwhile endeavor than by offering scholarships? It pits the best young minds in the game against one another, honing their skills and improving our professional circuit for years to come. It just makes sense to me.

You can trust me because I am 21, and no longer eligible to go after those juicy prizes. In addition, many of the game’s top players agree. One of the best arguments on the matter was made by Zac Hill in The Magic Show #109 — U.S. Nationals Part I. He explains it much better than I can, but basically here’s my main point: Just like a Major League Baseball team is fed by its farm system, Magic’s player base is strengthened by the JSS. Now imagine that your favorite MLB team suddenly decided to cut the farm system for budget concerns. Not an exact match, but you get my point.

It is for these reasons and more that I believe that the termination of the Junior Super Series to be a mistake and that the reinstatement of the JSS should happen as soon as humanly possible.

I can’t think of a fifth thing that I can defend as vehemently as I have the previous four, but saying the number five just sounds more commanding than ‘four things’ blah blah blah, so I decided to go with that.

In ending, I want to impress upon all you people who make Magic the game I have come to know and love my deep feeling of gratitude. Thank you for your hard work and dedication. I know I have said some harsh things in this letter (article?), but I am just trying to help and as a member of the Magic I feel it’s my responsibility to offer suggestions, comments, and concerns when I see fit.

Do with these four things as you see fit. I know that, whatever you decide to do in the future for Magic, it’s in the best interest of the game as a whole.

Thank you for your time.



Reuben Bresler
Reubs in the forums
[email protected]
CleverMonikerMan on AIM

Current Playlist:

What Condition My Condition Was In — Kenny Rogers and the First Edition
Psycho Killer — Talking Heads
The Airborne Toxic Event — Sometime Around Midnight
Snoop Dogg ft. Willie Nelson — My Medicine
Make A Man Out Of You — Mulan Soundtrack

* Joneses = Yu-Gi-Oh