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Magic for the 20th Century

Written by Ryan the Goblin King on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Magic Culture

Magic for the 20th Century

Ryan the Goblin King

Hailing from Goblinville, IN, Ryan AKA the Goblin King has been brewing Standard decks since Kaladesh block. Ryan has only one goal as a competitive Magic player and that’s to participate in a pro tour where every participant brings with them only the finest in jank.

I remember how it felt walking into my second ever GP at GP Atlanta. Unlike my first GP- the Standard main event, at this Grand Prix I would merely be there as a spectator. It was Modern and seeing as how Modern is a format I know almost nothing about, I thought it best to stick to the side events this time around, and to spectate the main event that was going on all around me.

Immediately upon arrival, I noticed there were more famous Magic faces at the Cobb Centre Galleria than I’ve ever seen anywhere in my life. There’s BBD, Seth, and Brad Nelson going up an escalator. And oh, just passed Mengucci, to turn around and immediately come face-to-face with Emma Handy.

In terms of familiar faces, I’ve never been so aware of so many Magic players in my life. I was certainly in awe of everything.

But any good-will I felt upon seeing some of Magic’s elite immediately dissipated when I arrived at the “feature match area”.

I could go on and on about how the lights were just the same lights as the rest of the arena (so not dimmed so as to set a mood) or I could tell you about how the commentators were in a separate room from the participants playing the game, watching them on a screen. But it first and foremost, started with that pint-sized 40” inch television that the feature matches were being shown on- an analogy for the larger problem at hand.

Look at how professional DOTA matches look. Just google “professional DOTA matches” and you’ll immediately see the dimmed down lights, the massive TV showing the game, and oh look, an arena full of fans. Why? Cause spectacle.

But this is the 21st century and what the means is that life is no longer about just having a big TV and a little bit of light-dimmed ambiance- there’s simply more to it. Poker figured this one out like 18 years ago so it amazes me that Magic still has yet to fully grasp the significance of this little aspect of riveting storytelling but one thing that I noticed on the twitch-streaming broadcast was that the viewer wasn’t given information about the cards in a players hands.

No hand cams?

How can you build the suspense of a strategic game of thinking without giving the viewer full information of the game at hand?

The tech needs to be even more advanced then that, though. Look at how Hearthstone streams on twitch. During a Hearthstone stream you have the option of hovering over a card and having it zoom in- allowing you to read the text. In a game as complex as Magic- these sorts of innovations should be commonplace.

I’m certain this all can change though.

I’m certain because Magic is a great game and although some of it has to do with the game-play (turn 2 Blood Moon, turn 3 Karn) so much of why Magic has never gained any traction as a spectator sport is because the companies that put together these events have failed to keep pace with the trends of modern technology.

Even with the likes of Arena there is no denying that Magic as a whole is stuck in a world that looks and feels a lot like the early 1990’s and it’s because of this that the ‘nostalgia-bitten’ bug isn’t lighting up the scoreboards and unlike Football, and DOTA, and Poker, and hell, the National Spelling Bee, Magic is a game that people don’t care to watch, have never cared to watch, and if things continue in the same pattern, I’m certain Magic will be a game that people will never, ever care to watch.

But people aren’t just there for the spectacle- that’s obviously a lie. People are there to watch because of the excitement that there is something greater on the line. “Hey man, wanna come watch me play in a GP, I can win 300 tix?” Versus, “hey bro, I’m in day 2 going for the million”. I wouldn’t care if my friend didn’t show up for some tix but I’d be looking for a new friend if they didn’t show up when I was going for the million.

But that’s how it is. Meager prize payouts to the point where it almost seems commonplace for every professional Magic Player/Writer to have a composition detailing how they can’t make a ‘living wage’ playing the game.

Now’s the most important time to fix these things. Never in my life have I felt so deeply like there was a bubble forming that could get so big it could burst. That’s how I feel about Magic the Gathering right now and it’s simply because of the overwhelming success that is Magic Arena.

Which is why we need these things to be Standard tournaments…

I’ve already heard your sales pitch. Modern sells more and people are playing more modern right now, it’s all supply and demand yadda, yadda- the finances of why the majority of these tournaments are Modern tournaments is certainly not lost on me.

But this is that weird bubble I was talking about. This large influx of players that are now playing Magic and whom weren’t able to before due to financial, time, or distance restraints. You have Hearthstone streamers streaming Magic Arena en masse. You have online gamers (who like the latest tech) being treated to what is clearly a revolutionary technology in the industry. And the one thing that’s common between all of their experiences is that everyone is playing Standard.

Yet by having the majority of upcoming GP events being played in Modern- new players basically have no legitimate options when it comes to trying to play at the highest level and reach the pro tour other than grinding out way too many PPTQ’s. It might be an unrealistic dream for most, but it’s certainly a realistic dream for some, and one we should at least entertain as we see an influx of new Magic players. Capture the new Magic fan’s imagination if you will.

“I wish @wizards_magic coverage was as fun and exciting to watch as @StarCraft coverage is #wcs”

Jim Davis via Twitter.

When I watch Magic broadcasts I’m not necessarily completely frustrated. The announcers are generally knowledgeable- Reid Duke, PV, LSV. Some are even clever such as Riley Knight. But one thing that I notice that is missing from almost every broadcasters mouth are words of excitement.

Magic’s more like golf then basketball. But it has moments that are a hell of a lot like football.

Something is on the line. At any time that person in the feature match area might have something on the line, a lot on the line, and it’s a moment that is ripe with drama. Some announcers do get it, but too frequently I come away from GP coverage feeling like there was an opportunity to make a match significantly more exciting if the announcers would talk just a bit more like the announcers on DOTA, or Basketball, or European Soccer- that is, ‘as if the sky were falling down’.


DECK TECH CITY. This is the biggest one- and by far the easiest solution for turning players into stars in the Magic community. Obviously a lot of Magic players come to this game because of it’s creative aspects- they like to brew and they like to break things and it’s for that reason alone that millions of people play Magic the Gathering. For instance, I solely will go to a GP if I feel like I have an interesting brew that can break the format. And if I were to show up with such a deck- I’d at the very least hope I would be allotted a 5 minute deck tech on it. But star-building is so much more then that. Look at how every other sport promotes their athletes. With trading cards (i.e. numbers based statistical analysis of a player.) Some people don’t care about the way a professional player talks or walks or writes a Magic article. They just want numbers based analysis of that player. In Magic that is nowhere to be found. Sure they give you the number of GP wins and pro tour top 8’s. But that’s about it and it doesn’t really tell you much. If one team plays an 82 game season and another team plays a 42 game season and the team that plays 82 games has one more win, is that team truly better? That’s what Magic stats are all about right now, though. Misinformation. Selling you stars that maybe don’t have great win rates or who just play a lot of Magic and honestly, it’s just not those people that any statistical based person would put any faith into. I want to know more. Tell me their win rate %. Tell me how often they are on control. Let me know how many of their wins are off Tron so as to ignore their win-rate completely. As a fan, I am currently in search of the greatest control guru that Magic has to offer but without any statistical based information (i.e. how often someone goes to a tournament and/or wins a tournament on control) I’m at a complete loss. I got GP Top 8’s, a few decklists that I can’t make heads or tails or- and that’s it.

Where to go from here?

So what does the future of professional Magic look like?

I think a lot of people will point to Arena and say that its the future and even the pros will be playing Arena. That’s certainly an option and logistically and financially speaking from a pro’s point of view- that might be the best option.

When it comes to putting on a theatrical production, however, Live Magic, with it’s eye-to-eye across the battlefield moments- seems like it can’t be beat.

What’s better, watching a pro lose, or watching a pro lose and then storm off after the match without shaking their opponents hands? Obviously the latter if you’re not dead inside.

Same goes with the motions of playing Magic. You get to watch a person and see all their mannerisms and character traits. This gives us a greater potential for stars in the arena- both heroes and villains.

But the presentation of it should hopefully, look just like the way professional DOTA matches look and that’s with stadium filling TV’s, ear-blaring sound systems, and dimmed down lights that indicate that this is something very, very important to behold.

After all, I hear Richard Garfield’s working on a card game that looks and feels a lot like Magic the Gathering. And I bet it’s pretty good.


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