Wolf Logic

Join a conversation that is a large part of the Magic community right now by reading what Harry thinks of a couple Grand Prix entry fees being raised to $50.

It was dark. Night had fallen, and the last remains of a recently lynched corpse dangled in the light of town square. Thick hair and the outline of a muzzle were all that was left to remind the village of the wolf scum formerly known as Chris Mascioli. One wolf down, five more to go.

As the villagers made their way into the warmth of their homes, each one muttered a somber remembrance for their fallen brethren. In particular for young William, the village seer and first victim of the town’s bloody hive mind. He died before the dangerous game ever really began, and for that sacrifice we all say thank ya. I paused for a moment to look around in the final moments before sleep overtook me: Marc Lalague, Alex Majlaton, Josh Utter-Leyton, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Alexander Hayne, Seth Manfield. Good villagers one and all. It pained me to know that I stood a great chance of waking on the morrow to find at least one of their bloodied corpses littering the streets of our fine village. But such is the nature of the game, and if you’re not playing, then you’re just dying.

As day broke and the first rays of sunlight crept over the village, the early morning quiet was shattered by the sounds of chaos and panic. The smell of dewy grass was marred by the stench of fresh blood, and a crowd began to gather as Christian Calcano stood atop two large cider barrels. The recently discovered corpse of Jon Stern was at his feet.

“HEAR ME VILLAGERS!” he cried, “Alexander Hayne was the last person to come publicly to the defense of Chris Mascioli, who is now known as a wolf! He must pay for this with his life!” 

I shook my head. Calcano was wrong. I knew it, but I couldn’t say aloud why. Not without blowing everything we had worked for thus far. Hayne was already in restraints by the time I arrived from across the village, and I knew I had some work to do before he would be free from them. With a deep breath, I summoned what remained of my charisma and began to speak in front of men and wolves alike.

. . .

With three-on-three team drafts between friends recently moving closer and closer to extinction, a new way to occupy time before, during, and after Grand Prix has recently arisen and become quite popular amongst the professional community. If you have never had the good fortune to be able to play Werewolf (also known as Mafia), take a look and familiarize yourself with the rules here.  The game is completely absurd, and I frequently find myself more excited for sleepless nights spent hunting wolves in hotel lobbies than for the fifteen rounds of Magic that I travel for every other weekend.

This past weekend in Philadelphia, for example, a 26-person game of Wolf took place inside of an all-glass skywalk overlooking Arch Street just hours after the Grand Prix had finished. Three of the Top 8 competitors were in attendance (including champion Frank Skarren) as well as more than a thousand lifetime Pro Points and even a member of the Hall of Fame. Werewolf only gets more insane the more hyperintelligent people are involved, and this one was legendary.

It was stories like these, tucked away in tournament reports and strategy articles on sideboard.com, that grabbed my attention when I was a young lad growing up in the shadow of competitive Magic. I wanted to read about people and know them by their personalities so that when a Grand Prix or Pro Tour arrived near my hometown, I could go and not feel completely left out.

At that age every detail of spending the weekend away from home was crucial. Who was I going with, where was I staying, how much would it cost? I could always expect that the answers to those questions and more would ultimately decide whether I was adventuring that weekend with the blessing of my parent, or whether I would be organizing a rebellion against their tyranny by choosing to go anyway. I was a teenager—not going was simply not an option. And if that seems odd to you, it’s likely that we haven’t had the pleasure of meeting.

Tournaments back then used to cost $30 to enter, and each and every weekend my trade binder felt the impact of that burden. $30 was way more than my weekly allowance, and the single booster box that my parents bought me for birthday and Christmas came complete with the disbelief that this was really what I wanted and it cost $100 for a few pieces of cardboard wrapped in cellophane. It was only through attention to detail while making trades (aka hustling my teenage friends for $2 and $3 at a time) and winning prizes at my local store (which happened very rarely) that I was able to play regularly at all.

There was also the one time I snuck my dad’s credit card out of his wallet and bought two boxes of Apocalypse.

While my collection did thrive, I paid dearly in the “allowed to leave the house” aspect of competitive Magic: The Gathering.

For three months it was more like Magic: The Alone-In-Your-Roomening.

But I digress.

Recently the subject of raising the entry fee for Grand Prix from $40 to $50 has been a large part of the public conversation. Alan Hochman, owner of professional tournament organizer Pastimes Comics and Games, announced that players participating in GP Atlanta and GP Chicago later this year will be charged $50 and given a coupon for $15 off any side event with no guarantee of receiving a copy of the GP playmat. Feedback came fast and thick via various social media outlets and Alan later released the following statement. I have to say that I laughed a little bit, and then shook my head, and then sighed . . .

And then I found Matt Sperling’s Facebook thread.

Allow me to regale you with some of my favorite moments:

Greg Hatch: “Profits are higher than ever, but I learned in my two-day business class at DeVry that you aren’t supposed to price based on profit and to only look at costs. So I don’t see what everyone is complaining about.”

“Hey, we’re the INVENTORS of playmat giveaways, so don’t act like we never gave you nothing you ungrateful cretins.”

“Hey look, SCG is doing it too. We’re good friends, Pete and I. See, he’s right there, underneath that bus.”

Good God, “We were just gonna charge $50 and give you the finger, but instead we decided to give you a coupon for a free bag of Doritos. See? Look what we do for the players!”

“Yes, there are more people coming and paying entry fees. I know this might seem backward, but that is actually driving up the costs of the event.” Yeah, you probably have a financial problem in house.

Sam Pardee: I wish that this would impact attendance, but I think that’s exceptionally unlikely. GPs are a much stronger brand than any of the individual TOs excluding perhaps SCG.

David Williams: I wish a TO would just say “I’m raising the cost ’cause you keep coming back for more. And we are going to continue to raise it to see how sick you guys are.”

Timothy Landale: I don’t care too much anymore as I hardly play, but I know when I was younger the cost of a tournament mattered a lot. Getting to play was a serious struggle sometimes when I was fifteen to seventeen, and I really hope this does not turn away younger people. That being said, if they want to raise the price, it’s their prerogative, just don’t feed us nonsense about rising costs when you are having record attendances all the time.

Craig Douglas Wescoe: If eight people sign up for a Win-a-Box with their coupon and split the box, that’s $10 each if you sell it for $80. So unless he institutes some rule like “no more than one person can use a coupon in each side event,” this is actually about the same for the players, albeit added inconvenience for having to go through all this to get our money back. It sounds to me he is not actually making more money off this though. He just wants to increase his participation numbers by forcing people to sign up for a side event that otherwise would not.

Then Patrick Chapin arrived to drop the hammer.

Patrick Chapin: Pete runs literal topnotch events and managed to deliver on the playmats. Pointing to the rise in increase in cost of SCG Opens is so awkward when SCG has to actually pay for those without subsidization in the forms of $40,000 cash, 100s of Pro Points, eight PTQ slots, and coverage on a site that gets nearly half a million hits. SCG reduced the prize pool for their FREE Invitational tournaments by $25,000. Oh, you’re talking about the tournaments that lead up to the FREE Players’ Championship they now have where sixteen people compete for another $50,000 in prizes?

If the GP price is going up, so be it, but my god would it have been infinitely better public relations to increase the prize by $10,000 instead of the forced side event credit. How many people will be at GP Chicago? 1600-2000? Yes, obviously Pastimes does not set the prize payouts, but they are one of a few loud voices and could easily effectively add $10,000 in prizes.

Hell, SCG effectively added $55,500 to the GP Richmond prize pool by guarantying a playmat for all instead of 600. “Playmat available with VIP registration, prize/entry to select events, and special promotion.” Oh I see, so the playmat is for sale for $50 instead of given away? Giving out $15 in side event credit is going to not only going to cost a fair bit, it is going to require massive human resources and cause side events lines to be longer, events to fire more slowly.

Cooler heads began to prevail:

Greg Ogreenc: For what it’s worth, there are a lot of PTOs, and although SCG and Legion are the creme de la creme, most other PTOs offer a strictly worse experience than Pastimes. If you actually read the post, it seems pretty obvious that he’s implying that all of the GPs are going to raise their price. The personal attacks at Alan also are fairly absurd. As for the general frustration, it is what it is, and you obviously each have the right to voice your concerns and troll at will.

And it appears a final conclusion was reached:

Matt Sperling: Honestly the guy’s only mistake was posting this half-baked explanation.

Jarvis Yu: Yeah, I would also just rather hear “well, the economy dictates we can charge more for these tournaments, so I am charging more” instead of the explanations he gave.

That I believe is the meat of the discussion. While Greg Hatch emerged as the clear winner of the “sharpest daggers” competition, my position on the issue is with Timothy Landale and Craig Wescoe. In addition, I believe that in time the cost of Grand Prix admission will indeed increase to $50, and I hope that TOs will go out of their way to ensure that players are getting their money’s worth out of the tournament experience.

There have been other popular threads in the past week that are less critical of the decision to increase the registration fee and more constructive regarding how to make the tournament experience worthwhile. Some fantastic ideas have been generated, such as:

  • Guaranteed playmat for all participants
  • Free water bottle available for players
  • Free pen and score pad for all players
  • Plenty of player space at tables

As the discussion surrounding this topic continues to grow, I hope we can reach a solution to the issues presented by both sides. I think some transparency regarding the costs of PTOs would go a long way toward building an understanding with the player base about how their registration dollars are being distributed. In the end what truly matters are the personalities and the good times to be found at these weekend gatherings all across the world, and barrier to entry is the biggest issue facing new players today. Tournament entries simply cannot increase by $10 without some sort of justification inside either the tournament experience or payout.

After all, when a kid reads a story about his hero Christian Calcano trying to murder a Canadian for being a werewolf, they should feel like they can do that too without having to steal their dad’s credit card.