I’ve been a little down on Magic lately.
Not the game itself mind—SOM block draft is a treat—but the discussions and arguments around it. In the UK, the playerbase seems to always
be on a negative, ranging from full-on tin foil hats and “the sky is falling” doom-mongery, to merely a sense that some poor
TO/judge/store owner (or WotC themselves) has messed things up royally in some way.
In the last fortnight, this has mainly centered on two issues. Firstly, that Nationals in Sheffield, despite not having taken place yet, has already
disappointed some people, to whom it looks to be less than the mind-blowing amazement fest they had not only been anticipating but are full-on entitled to. Secondly, that superlative London TO of 10+ years Jason Howlett doesn’t get to run an M12 Prerelease due to WPN
The question: is the state of Magic in the UK really that bad at the moment, or is it all just hot air? I decided to ask a range of players about
various aspects of UK Magic. The following is a collection of what they had to say, and my own thoughts.
A little detail on the players quoted below. Those here cover most of the country, various types of involvement in the UK Magic community, and all
levels of skill/competition.
– Level 2 judge, now working for Stainless Games on Duels of the Planeswalkers.
– Owner of new game store Xtremetrades in Colchester, will play in PT Philadelphia after making Top
8 of GP London.
– PTQ grinder from Leeds.
– FNM player from Wales.
– Narcissist, curmudgeon, mischief-maker.
– London player currently studying in China, “dv8r” on Magic League.
– London-based PTQ grinder, his first PT was Amsterdam.
– FNM player from Gravesend.
– Semi-competitive player from Newcastle.
Matteo Orsini Jones
– PT player (Top 8 PT Kyoto 2009).
Marco Orsini Jones
– PT player renowned for his deckbuilding.
– PTQ grinder based in Hemel Hempstead.
– Judge from Richmond.
In order to run a Prerelease or FNM event, tournament organizers must now be affiliated with a brick and mortar gaming store, and FNM can only be run
on Fridays. A WotC representative informed me that “ the centralization of WPN Programs to Stores is a worldwide move that is seeing huge benefits in both player numbers and experience.”
However, some players in outlying areas where a store is not financially viable, or where a store-affiliation has not been possible
don’t see it this way:
Craig Barnes begins the criticisms:
“The WPN doesn’t work in the UK. Many shops have severe space restrictions and so cannot support the number of players for a
big Prerelease. Due to the play network ideals a lot of games clubs are missing out on events they had in the past. If someone doesn’t own a shop, it
is very difficult for them to be a TO.”
Geraint Morgan is pretty upset also:
“We can’t have Prereleases anymore because there isn’t a shop. It doesn’t matter that the organizer has successfully
kept a scene going here for ten years or so; we have to go elsewhere now. It feels like a huge **** you from Wizards. You want to run things your way,
the way you’ve successfully done for years, well, screw that, play by our rules or nothing.”
Others have been luckier and have managed to affiliate their clubs with stores in neighboring towns so they can continue with events they were already
running. The Milton Keynes club works with a store in Northampton (~25 miles away) for instance.
Some though, are very positive about the WPN, such as new storeowner, Nick Taylor:
“There are now successful stores cropping up with great player bases. Wizards have had a helping hand in this with their
excellent WPN scheme. I think these new stores will really improve some of the regular Magic venues, and with Wizards, stores and judges all working
hand-in-hand, I think the UK scene will be bigger and better than before.”
My own opinion is on the negative side. This change, coupled with the fact our TO has not been able to affiliate with a store or open his own, meant my
usual Prerelease of choice could not go ahead. While admittedly there were other options within an hour’s travel, I felt a sense of loyalty to my
local club, and many others agreed: We voted with our feet and chose to not attend any event.
Perhaps the most insightful analysis on the matter came from James Geach:
“At a time when even the largest brand leaders in the world (Starbucks is the most striking example that comes to mind, they
are currently allowing local decision-making about design, opening times, and product selection) are recognizing the importance of devolving
decision-making, it seems an anathema that a blanket policy decision made by Wizards will prevent a great many current customers attending a marquee
event in a metropolis like London.”
While the WPN changes might work exceptionally well and lead to positive improvements in many locations, there are several here where they
haven’t. “One rule for all” certainly doesn’t work, and as James says, allowing local offices to make decisions based on what
makes the most sense for their area would be the ideal improvement.
At the PTQ level, there seem to be very distinct rivalries between people from different regions, and the events themselves seem to be dominated by the
same names all the time—what’s with that?
Matteo Orsini Jones opens the discussion:
“It’s always the same people top 8ing or winning the PTQs because the rest of the country is too busy whinging on public
forums about how the good players don’t talk to them. We have the easiest PTQ system in the world, and yet people still don’t care.”
Peter Dun offers a different view:
“The top players in the UK are generally too proud to work together, and the whole tournament structure seems very
Charlie Grover elaborates on why these cliques are so prevalent:
“The competition for PT slots is the problem with Magic in England. We have very little incentive to work and test outside of
our regional groups because the competition for slots is so tight that if we help each other too much, we directly ruin our own chances. The best
example of this was the Nats where Dan G/OJ bros had the Barnslayer deck. Despite doing testing with them beforehand, the second they had that deck,
they shut me out of testing; our events have too small a group of ringers to allow for much collaboration.”
Marco Orsini Jones is particularly frank in his analysis:
“It doesn’t seem that people can get along if they’re not from the same area of the UK. There’s also a big divide
between the ‘top players’ and the ‘rest,’ and up-and-comers like Charlie find this especially awkward, as they fit into neither group. The reasons for
this are: (i) the main group of top players can be inaccessible and arrogant towards others, (ii) the excessive touchiness of those who aren’t in this
group. Re: Nats, I think that this tournament is quite different from others; people will stick to small testing groups due to the direct competition
within the UK. However, one of my biggest regrets in Magic was shutting some people out of the Barnslayer deck who probably deserved to get the
Some have a more positive outlook though, such as Rob Wagner:
“I really enjoy the social scene. I’ve made a lot of friends through travelling to PTQs as well as GPs. Although deep
down everyone is competing against one another, there’s a good level of camaraderie among the competitive players who see each other regularly.”
There are always going to be little rivalries in Magic, but we in the UK seem to take it too far. It’s surprising how hostile we can be to
others, who aren’t even from that far away! As Rob points out though, the PTQ circuit being quite small does mean it’s very easy to make
friends you’ll see time and again, something we should embrace as a positive. And hopefully if more players can break through to level 4 on the
PT, the PTQ circuit will open up to allow more players through to the big show.
CAN WE GET ALONG?
As well as the regional rivalries mentioned previously, amongst UK players there is frequently disdain for and from the top players, plus many other
points of conflict. One top player who confided in me thinks we’re in a bad place right now:
“UK Magic sucks, as some people spend more effort b****ing at each other than helping each other out. There are some great
characters that help the game, but they are sadly overwhelmed by those that seem to flourish on putting everyone at odds with each other.”
Mark Langley seems to agree:
“A fragmented and critical outlook on people rather than a galvanized ‘get behind them and help them’ perspective does seem to
Meanwhile, Matteo Orsini Jones is somewhat dismissive of these claims, at least relating to the UK’s top players:
“When people say the ‘pros’ are unfriendly and harsh to newer players, they actually mean Dan Gardner and probably acted like
idiots around him. Sure I’m sarcastic and love to troll, but I don’t think I’ve ever been rude to somebody at a tourney unless they deserved it.”
Again, his brother Marco cuts straight to the point:
“You guys need to understand that we are constantly dicks to each other (not just you) and shouldn’t take it so personally.
Trust me, staying an entire weekend with Dan G is tough for his mates, let alone those he doesn’t like/know, but this is part of why we like him so
much: constantly being a dick to everyone is funny, as long as no one takes things too personally. It’s a shame the UK group isn’t more like the
Italian group. Maybe it’s just a cultural thing, but the Italians banter with each other pretty much constantly, and yet all of them get along awesome,
always share accommodation together, etc.”
I certainly think we could all do a lot more to get along, not just within our own regional groups. Part of the problem with this is the lack of a
centralized, permanent forum for UK Magic discussion, which could really help unite us and provide a springboard to larger groups of UK players
attacking European GPs.
Compared to other countries in Europe, the UK seems to have far fewer pro players on “the train,” fewer PT Top 8 finishes, and we certainly
don’t have any superstars such as Gabriel Nassif or Martin Juza. What is holding us back?
Matteo Orsini Jones blames a lack of proper preparation:
“We have no testing groups, so we always have a bad deck at PTs. Compare the CFB Caw-Blade to the UK classic U/W Control at PT
Rob Wagner agrees with this diagnosis:
“We’re not really hitting the high notes at big events. We have regular GP successes, but PTs are a problem. We don’t know how
to prepare for them, rather than that the players aren’t good enough in principle. The players with more PT experience can be a bit disdainful of those
with less and are not playing the role of teacher; they see the less-experienced PT players as lucky PTQ winners and not worth the investment. This
obviously is a self-fulfilling cycle.”
Charlie Grover offers a different outlook on our results:
“British players are actually performing pretty well on the PT these days. We don’t have that many talented players, but
a bunch of top 50s have been put up recently. Remember, we are quite a small country, which tries to punch above its weight.”
Nick Taylor is thinking positive ahead of his first PT:
“Dan Royde has kindly set up a group for PT Philly, and I’m grateful for that. I’m hoping it becomes a great source for
debate on decks, and maybe the British guys can come up with something unique this time.”
Marco Orsini Jones, though, looks deeper into the question of why we aren’t doing better:
“The real issue is: why aren’t UK players good enough to do well at PTs? A lot of it comes down to preparation, which is
usually fragmented and poor. Secondly, it’s a question of dedication. To do well at PTs nowadays you have to be willing to put a lot of hours in. This
naturally favors younger players without jobs, but at the moment there don’t seem to be many of these committed enough to do well. I’m struggling
to see where the next batch of quality young players is going to come from, which is a shame. Another factor is that Magic in the UK is stunted by a
lack of ambition; people are happy to be the big fish in their small pond, rather than challenge themselves to be the best in the UK and to perform on
the European/world stage.”
Sadly, this is an area of discussion I’m not really qualified to talk about…
DO WE TRAVEL TO EVENTS ENOUGH?
One idea that comes up repeatedly in discussion of UK events is that the majority of players do not travel nearly enough. Is this the case?
Matteo Orsini Jones certainly thinks so:
“The people who do actually travel are the ones who win the PTQs, surprisingly enough, because giving yourself more chances
leads to more results.”
His brother agrees:
“People in the US routinely travel 4+ hours to PTQ whereas most in the UK won’t bother with anything over two hours. It
comes down to how much you want to qualify, and at the moment, most people don’t seem to care.”
James Mills argues that players do want to go to events; they just have so much else going on:
“I wouldn’t mind travelling to events with decent prize support even if it was 3-4 hours away. It’s a shame I have so much
else going on in my life, or I would turn up a lot more.”
While Nick Taylor hypothesizes the “Hive Mind” is having a negative impact on attendance among certain groups of players:
“In a way, tournaments are a victim of the internet: with the vast amount of information out there, a number of players get
put off by high percentages of the fields playing ‘net decks.’ It’s possible that with the lack of room for innovation, it prevents players from
playing what they want to due to a format being tested to within an inch of its life.”
Rob Wagner looks on the bright side; our country is pretty well set-up for travelling to these events:
“Apart from the towns scattered around London, the transport infrastructure of the UK is pretty good for getting around by
trains. The North is especially good for this. I get annoyed when PTQs are given to venues where the only way to get there is some obscure London
Underground line, then a five-mile hitchhike, but most of them are in suitable locations.”
I’m with Mills here: having a love for Magic, a full-time job, and a busy social life means I can’t spend every weekend playing games, and
travelling further than two hours to an event can really eat up a weekend. Those who are able to devote more time to Magic though have no excuse not to
grind the PTQ circuit and travel a little further.
I realize a fair chunk of this article has been quite negative, so it’s time to celebrate some of the people who are really making the UK Magic
scene great. Who do you think is doing this?
Charlie Grover is quick to name a couple of well-known PTQ grinders:
“Rob Wagner. He and Richard Bland are both very good players who are always willing to help out and love the game for the game
rather than the ego boost.”
Kim Warren highlights the extra mile the Chesham TO always goes to:
“Francois Hauchard provides trophies (player of the year, young player of the year), outreaches to recruit young players, and
encourages particularly promising ones. He supplements his Prereleases with quizzes with other prizes. For his PTQs he provides room sponsorship for
the winner as well as travel. He provides a free Starbucks coffee coupon to every entrant and has a large venue, which is very adaptable if player
numbers far exceed expectations.”
It is also very much worth noting this piece, on Francois’ extraordinary work with a young autistic player.
Marco Orsini Jones wants to highlight the online work a Worcester storeowner is doing:
“Tu (Nguyen) is doing great work right now for competitive magic in the UK at mtguk, and although it is linked to his store’s website, he is going well above and beyond the
profit motive with the work he is putting in. Also Rich Hagon for all his coverage work; he always gives a shout out to UK Magic and players.”
Myself, I’d like to highlight excellent Southern TOs such as Jason Howlett and Glen White who can always be relied upon to organize a quality
event, super-dedicated judges (amongst them Stelios Kargotis and “DLS”) who genuinely care about the players and upholding the rules of the
game and fair play, and then all the friendly faces I see at UK events who make the game worth playing. I wouldn’t be here if you all
hadn’t made my experiences such good ones!
“The major problems that we have in the UK Magic scene are convoluted, no single person’s fault, and some are possibly insurmountable. A lot
of attitudes need to change.”
Nick Taylor: “
Overall I think it is an interesting time for Magic in the UK, and it could go either way, but I’m optimistic that things will change (for the
better) come Innistrad Sealed PTQs.”
Me? I think we all like to complain a bit too much. If the collective time we’ve all spent b****ing about Dan Gardner and complaining about
events had been put into tournament preparation and deckbuilding, we’d probably have a British PT winner by now.
UK players, do offer your opinions on these issues in the forum, and… Let’s have a beer in Sheffield and all get along and have a good time,
okay? See you all there in August!
Next time – How to win two packs with: A lot of drink and cursing, five friends, and four Concussive Bolts.