Possibly the strongest card advantage swing for a Mana Leak…
So, just before Wizards of the Coast (WOTC) were about to start spoiler season, the pdf file containing images of the whole New Phyrexia (NPH) set hit the internet. This file, known as a Godbook, contained everything in the set, all the cards and artwork. This meant that everyone had access to the information before WOTC could start it’s usual planned spoilers.
Their response was to post the entire visual spoiler, usually reserved for the end of spoiler season, right at the start of the week. In fact you can find it on Gatherer now. This solved the information problem, but didn’t tell us what had gone wrong. Had the Godbook been released by an angry member of staff or somebody at the printers?
Then, on Thursday 28th April, we got this announcement from WOTC.
And it was revealed that the leak came from the current World Champion Guillaume Matignon, the 2nd place runner-up and two of their friends. Guillaume Matignon writes for a French magazine (Lotus Noir), and gets sent the Godbook to provide a set review as an article. He gets sent it early so that the article can get written and printed in time to be published with the set, not a month later when such information would be out of date. Fine so far, but how did that translate into the world getting it, especially since presumably he has been doing this for several sets.
Channelfireball provided us with the answer, via an article by Caleb Durward which can be found here. In this article, Caleb details chats where the Godbook popped up, and his personal investigation into who was involved.
This has caused quite the furore amongst the MTG community. For many people, they see this as Pro players getting sent information to keep them at the top of the game. That maybe this is WOTC’s way of promoting personalities amongst the Pro Tour, to in turn promote the game.
The reality is probably less conspiritorial than that.
For years, WOTC have used printed magazines as a form of subtle advertising. Basically, every time a magazine doe’s an article about Magic the Gathering, it advertises the game. The same applies these days to websites. Obviously, magazines/websites that specialise in gaming want to do set reviews. As a new set comes out, it’s pretty much all the readership are going to be talking about, so why not give them your writers views.
The problem faced is that while a website can write an article and post it in the same day, a magazine can’t do that. I don’t know the lead time on such things, but a writer has to write an article, submit it to the editor, who then checks it and sends it off to the typesetters who put it in the magazine. It then has to be printed, the copies sent off to the distributors, who send it to the shops. Then at some point you buy it and read it.
If a writer has to wait for a set to release to see the set, then they have a problem. Given that many magazines are monthly, the next issue after a set is revealed by WOTC could be up to a full month later. By then, players have been to a pre-release, a launch party, bought boosters and started playing with the cards in their constructed decks. If a review comes out then, nobody cares because anything you say was said by you a month ago. Any opinions have already proven to be accurate or inaccurate.
With early access to the set, a player can make proxies and get a jump on playtesting. They can explore the card combos and interactions before anyone else, therefore knowing which cards they need to pick up when the set releases to make the most competetive deck. They can also get a jump on speculating on card values, grabbing pre-order bargains before everyone else realises how good a card is.
WOTC make the people they send the Godbook sign a non-disclosure agreement meaning they can’t show it to anyone else. This also curtails advanced playtesting, as it is hard to get decent testing done without a partner. However, this presumes that WOTC find out you’ve shown someone the cards.
It’s a safe bet that the Guilliames had been doing this for a while. It’s not like they were going to report each other. It seems that this time round they invited the wrong person into their circle of trust and paid the price. A three year ban for Matignon, and a one and a half year ban for the others involved. That punishes the transgressors, but what does it mean for the future?
Obviously the problem isn’t limited to Pro Players who write for magazines. Anyone who gets sent a Godbook might have friends who play. Anyone could gain an advantage from the information if they are smart enough with the right group of people. It doesn’t make up for skill, but practice and testing can lead to skill increasing. So getting the jump on the competition can help anyone, especially for the first few weeks. And if your group aren’t stupid with the information, then WOTC never find out.
This leads to a difficult position, which could potentially lead to WOTC having to end their policy of sending the Godbook to article writers. The damage done to the integrity of Pro play alone is bad enough, without the damage done to the marketing machine. It’s hard enough for magazines to compete with the daily content of the Internet, and this could prove to be the death knell for magazines such as Lotus Noir. We’ve already lost both Inquest and Scrye to the Internet.
As for the Guilliame’s integrity; while they may have consistently had the cards a month or two before everyone else for the past few years, they would still need personal skill to be able to take advantage of this. Such information really only helps for the first couple of events after a set releases. It’s not even a huge help for limited as you don’t know the print runs. It’s a shame this will be a blight on their careers, but if they can get through the ban period they are probably skilled enough to work their way back to the top of the game. And they will have learned to be careful who they trust, even if they take nothing else away from the experience.
Thanks for reading and I look forward to sharing your thoughts on this topic,