You Lika The Juice? – Nuking Champs from Orbit

Read Bennie Smith every week... at StarCityGames.com!
Wednesday, February 13th – When Wizards made adjustments to the Pro Tour, they made sure to provide plenty of explanation for those who were impacted. There’s exponentially more people impacted by the decision to abandon States! States is wildly popular, and poof! It’s gone. They’re nuking the program from orbit without a word to the very large number of players down here on the ground that are impacted by the decision.

Ripley: I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.
Hudson: F***ing A!
Burke: Hold on one second. This installation has a substantial dollar value attached to it.
Ripley: They can bill me.
Burke: Okay, look. This is an emotional moment for all of us, okay? I know that. But let’s not make snap judgments, please. This is clearly, clearly an important species we’re dealing with and I don’t think you or I or anybody has the right to arbitrarily exterminate them.
Ripley: Wrong.
Vasquez: Yeah. Watch us.
Hudson: Hey, maybe you haven’t been keeping up on current events, but we just got our asses kicked, pal!
Burke: Look, I’m not blind to what’s going on, but I cannot authorize that kind of action. I’m sorry.
Ripley: Well, I believe Corporal Hicks has authority here.
Burke: Corporal Hicks has…
Ripley: This operation is under military jurisdiction, and Hicks is next in chain of command. Am I right, Corporal?
Hicks: Yeah. Yeah, that’s right.
Burke: Yeah. Look, Ripley, this is a multi-million dollar installation, okay? He can’t make that kind of decision. He’s just a grunt. Hicks, no offense.
Hicks: None taken. Ferro, do you copy?
Ferro: Standing by.
Hicks: I say we take off, nuke the site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

(As a Wikipedia junkie, I was thrilled to recently run across Wikiquote, a free online compendium of quotations from notable people and creative works in every language, including sources (where known), translations of non-English quotes, and links to Wikipedia for further information. And Aliens is full of fantastic quotes, ain’t it?)

Let’s say you were poking around on your bank’s website and stumbled across this notice buried in a link you just happened to click on today, one you rarely go to.

“XYZ bank has decided to revamp our checking account systems this year in order to improve your service. Your checking account will be suspended indefinitely while we work out the details. Stay tuned for further updates, and thanks for your patronage!”

Reaction to the notice probably starts with “What the?” and ends with any number of expletives, followed up with an angry call or visit to your local bank. This would be a textbook case of how not to go about revamping a checking account system, and it’s pretty obvious why it’s a poor execution on so many levels.

So I cannot for the life of me figure out why Wizards of the Coast basically did the same thing when deciding to pull States/Champs from the 2008 calendar. In case you haven’t checked the States link on the Tournament Page of Magicthegathering.com lately (and why would you, considering there has been no public announcement?), here’s what you’ll find:

“Wizards of the Coast has decided to revamp our Organized Play offerings in 2008 in order to make Magic available to the most players possible. We are redesigning the States/Champs programs for both the Two-Headed Giant and Standard formats. As such we will not be running the 2HG States/Champs event normally run in March or the Standard event that takes place in the fall. The 2HG events previously scheduled for the UK will still take place. We thank you for your continued support and look forward to having a new invigorated program for you later this year.

“We are excited about the changes in our programs this year, and hope that you will check out www.magicthegathering.com for news about the new programs and outlets through 2008 and beyond.”

I’m not leaving anything out. That’s all it says.


Coming on the heels of the shakeup of the Pro Tour, the natural reaction is deep concern. Is States/Champs over and done with? My instinct tells me no; States/Champs is a gold mine for Wizards – it drives sales and excitement for Magic like no other tournament out there, across a very broad band of players, and it has got to be measurable. It also can’t cost them much outside of the relatively few man-hours it takes to coordinate with each State’s Tournament Organizer, who shoulder most of the logistical heavy lifting. Printing off special promo cards is chump change.

Conversely, the Pro Tour is a gigantic expense, and its link to driving sales and excitement is more convoluted and nebulous – and before you think I’m hating on the Pro Tour, I do think there is a link; I just imagine its harder to explain that link to corporate suit-types over at Hasbro. We’re probably lucky the PT hasn’t had even more cuts. On a side tangent, a quick moment on the Magic Players “Union” that was organized in response to the changes to the Pro Tour this year. My first reaction was an eye-roll; having a bunch of Pro Players “forcefully” complaining to Wizards about a lessening of Pro benefits seemed to be a tempest in a teapot, especially since I imagine the people they’re going to be talking to are not the ones who made the decision; I can’t imagine the people at Wizards wouldn’t want more Pro Tours – they’ve been loving Pro Magic and the lifestyle for years and years and years. No, I’m fairly certain the decision came from way higher up the corporate food chain. And besides – what are the Pros going to do – Boycott? In the interest of fairness I decided to go to their website and poke around… and was pleasantly surprised at how civil and broad-based their mission seems to be. They’re even taking up the cause of States/Champs, as well as the Magic Scholarship Series, as one of the grievances. It’s entirely possible that their meeting with Wizards will turn out building a productive and informative pipeline between the company that makes the product, and their most vital (and vocal) customers.

I just hope that the Players Union realizes that, so long as Wizards is owned by another, profit-driven company, that there may be a lot that is beyond their control.

I’m 99% certain that Standard Champs will return and will continue being a moneymaking endeavor for Wizards. What I imagine is going to happen is that it will finally be built into the “Road to Worlds” architecture Wizards is constructing with the City Champs program. Perhaps City Champs will soon be offering byes to States, and that States will be offering byes to Regionals, and then of course Regionals giving invites to Nationals. Sadly, I think that’s going to require that States be moved up in the calendar; I say sadly because that would mean States would no longer be the premier showcase for each new Standard rotation in the fall. That’s one of the reasons I’ve always loved States – because the metagame was wide open, with no one knowing how things are going to shake out.

What I’m guessing happens instead is that City Champs will end up being the fall premier showcase for the new Standard, though I’m not so sure how that will fare since City Champs is pretty low on the metagame radar. Who posts City Champs decklists? Maybe Wizards will start doing that. Who knows?

And that’s really the crux of the beef I have with Wizards. Nobody knows what the hell’s going on! When Wizards made adjustments to the Pro Tour, they made sure to provide plenty of explanation for those who were impacted. There’s exponentially more people impacted by the States decision! States is wildly popular, and poof! It’s gone. They’re nuking the program from orbit without a word to the very large number of players down here on the ground that are impacted by the decision.

After Ben Bleiweiss pointed out to me that States had been suspended last week, I was incredibly upset… but after I cooled down, I was sure that we’d be left with more than just that lame couple of paragraphs. I figured BDM would at least give us a little nugget of explanation. Friday morning I clicked on and read his column. Nothing. With the announcement of the changes to the Pro Tour, BDM had an entire column dedicated to explaining things (Your 2008 To-Do List). “We’re committed as always to the vision of professional play foremost. The primary way we realize that vision of course is through our high-level tournaments and associated programs such as the Players Club and the Pro Tour Hall of Fame,” said Chris Galvin, vice president of Wizards’ Organized Play department. What about a little commitment to the rest of us? You remember us, don’t you? We’re the ones who buy the lion’s share of your product, who play ‘round the kitchen table, go to your prereleases, and get stoked about going to States and playing our homebrew concoction? It’s all well and good that you’re pumping up the Grand Prix season — “We want to improve what we’re calling the ‘reach’ of professional play,” Galvin said. “We want to be accessible to more people in more and more diverse locations.” Fine, bravo – that’s cool. But cutting 50 States tournaments leaves a big freaking hole that 2-3 Grand Prix just can’t fill. Indianapolis and Denver are not in too many people’s tournament traveling radius, compared to the number of people who (used to) attend States.

Ever since I met Randy Buehler face to face, I’ve had the impression that Wizards is way too Pro-centric, and the glaring difference in the way changes to the Pro Tour and changes to States were handled just reinforces that feeling. The Pro Tour and professional level play is a wonderful thing – it offers something to aspire to, a level of play we can hope to achieve or at least know is out there if we want to take our game up a notch. But each time I go to a Friday Night Magic, or work a Prerelease, I run into more and more people who could really care less about the rat race of PTQs and DCI rankings. For them, Magic is about fun, pure and simple – putting together wacky deck ideas, shuffling up and seeing how it goes, getting together with friends and just leaving behind the daily grind for a few hours. These are the folks who wouldn’t step foot in a PTQ, but I may very well see them at the more casual State Champs.

Wizards throws tons of money and deferment towards the Pro Magic community; is it too much to ask for a little respect and consideration towards the mass of us who play in the lower ranks? Don’t pull the plug on something as wildly popular as States without letting us know the whys and whatfors. That’s just inconsiderate and rude, not to mention foolhardy – we’re your bread and butter. Taking your customers for granted isn’t the wisest thing to do.

When I told a friend of mine about this development, his reaction was Why the hell did I just buy all this Morningtide? He then said The wife will be happy I suppose, because I now have no desire to go play Friday Night Magic. I don’t think he’s the only one who’s feeling that way.

From the thread in Star City’s forum:

Larraque said: “Losing a big local tournament is pretty awful. I seldom travel to events (although, with three big events in my neck of the woods this fall — U.S. Nationals in Chicago, GP: Kansas City and Worlds in Tennessee) – all within 6 hours drive – I know I’ll be travelling a fair bit this year. But for the most part, I have zero aspirations to qualify for a Pro Tour – I don’t really care to travel weekly to go to PTQs; It’s a game, not a job.

“States / Champs are the two biggest tournaments I can hope to win on a regular basis. (Still are; Fat chance of me winning GP:KC) I’ll agree that a revamp is desirable (better prize support please; kthx) but announcing a cancellation of programs without a replacement just doesn’t bode well for the future of Magic…”

Just to be clear – I think revamping States is fine; even though it was immensely popular, it was always a bit of a sore thumb, existing outside of all the rest of the tournament architecture. The problem, the really huge problem, is canceling the event without any real word of explanation, nothing to reassure, no apologies to those of us who spend a lot of our disposable income keeping our collection competitive anticipating participating in this fall’s States. When I wrote the opening analogy to randomly shutting down your checking account, I did that on purpose – there’s people’s money involved here. One of the side effects of Wizards flattening the power level of Magic cards (making few broken cards and a lot more “Tier 2” cards) seems to have resulted in larger numbers of expensive chase cards, so that you need to weigh how much you are willing to spend for cards compared to how much play value you’ll be getting from it. Cutting one of the big tournaments of the year gives you a less bang for your buck.

Before I sign off this week, I just wanted to take a moment to give a shout out to Netscape. Tom Drapeau, director of AOL’s Netscape Brand, declared that the company would stop supporting Netscape software products as of February 1, 2008. It was a little shocking to realize how much Netscape had fallen off my radar. Magic is what drove me to start exploring the internet back in 1996, but since AOL was so expensive — and for “stupid people,” according to my geek friends — I looked for an alternative and ended up going with a little local internet provider with Netscape Navigator as my web browser — Netcom! Ah, that carries me back to the salad days of Usenet, when I discussed strategy with the likes of Adrian Sullivan, edt, Jamie Wakefield, and Mike Flores. Wow, 12 years of swapping ideas on Magic across the Internet! My, how time flies when you’re having fun!

By the way, is anyone from Richmond driving to the Star City $5K Standard Open down in Charlotte on February 23rd? It looks like I may need to catch a ride, so if you’ve got an open seat, please drop me a line!

See ya next week!


starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com