What impact do new and casual Magic players actually have on existing tournament Magic players?
(enter CONSTANCE, stage right, token woman and queen of The Casuals.)
It is a reasonable assumption that many people reading this article – my first for Manaleak.com – won’t know who I am. I have never played in a PPTQ, nor travelled very far for an event. I have been playing since Innistrad and have only recently began scoring more than an even record at the Magic tournaments that I attend. However, let me assure you, I am a pretty big wheel down at the cracker factory.
This article will be considering the game’s unprecedented growth and prosperity in the last 8 years or so. The discourse on this matter is often framed very positively, with the underlying and unquestioned assumption that this is a universally positive trend and something which should be encouraged and celebrated by all involved. This is something that I believe to be true.
I find Mr. McIntyre’s article “Wisdom Fae Under The Bridge – The Impact of the Growth of Magic the Gathering for UK PPTQ Grinders” fundamentally flawed from the outset. The aim, from the introduction is to ascertain the extent to which the wave of new Magic players is positive to ‘PTQ Grinders’; the author then goes on to name one positive point (well, several aspects of the same point), and then complains at length about how these new players have had a negative impact on his personal life without really addressing the argument constructively.
As both an almost new and largely casual player (i.e. someone who plays for fun and doesn’t aim to qualify for Pro Tours), I feel like I should step in to defend myself and the people I play with.
So, within the context of Mr. McIntyre’s article…
What impact does the Rampant Growth of new and casual players actually have on existing tournament players?
Singling out Commander particularly as a format full of bad players is disingenuous
So, how does the number of new players affect the quality of life of the ‘Grinders’?
Well, there is more product in circulation, and more people to trade with. The chances of you knowing someone with a card you’re looking for is high. For example, on a whim one Saturday night, I decided to attend a Standard constructed tournament the following morning. However, I was short a few key cards. By the time it started, not only was my deck complete, but almost everyone in attendance had chipped in loans to build another player’s deck, entirely from scratch. The more of us there are, the more help there is, and the more likely there is to be a spare copy of something specific kicking around the back of someone’s trade binder.
Speaking of trade binders: the author states at the end of his article that Commander and casual players are a detriment to the competitive player, whilst illustrating with his own example that this is not the case. Commander and tournament staples often differ significantly, so there are two markets with divergent needs. An Commander player could be looking for an expensive creature that has synergy with their general, whereas the competitive player could be looking for an efficient two drop with no exciting rules text.
Commander has a marked effect on card prices; I don’t think this can be disputed. This allows a competitive player to trade honestly with other players for cards that they require rather than – as is implied by the author – taking advantage of the naivety of less experienced traders. This generates a flow of cards through the community and increases the variety of cards available to everyone.
Implying that trading is about trying to maximise the disparity in value between what you offer and what you receive is not only a generally awful way to think, but prevents this commerce, and eventually limits the pool of cards available to you and everyone else in your peer group.
Additionally, Commander players know the difference between good and bad cards. Singling out Commander particularly as a format full of bad players is disingenuous; it’s not an exclusive little club you get kicked out of after you’ve been playing for more than a year, it’s a format like any other with good and bad players. The format appeals to a wide cross section of the MTG community, with a large range of skill level and experience. For example, at the Standard tournament I attended this weekend, my partner (who has played two Pro Tours, and once considered himself a competitive player) sat and played Commander against two other highly competitive TCG players. That doesn’t mean any of them are interested in my 5RR 5/5 Dragons.
With that out of the way, the other points in the first section are very relevant indeed. Not having to hitch-hike to tournaments is probably a lot more convenient. Having a good group to play test with can only be a benefit (despite the author’s allusions to a downside that is never explained fully). All these points overlap in one important area though, and that is a social one. The main benefit of Magic becoming more popular for the ‘Grinders’, according to that article, is that they will end up knowing more people with similar interests, and find friends to playtest with. This is a point which the author and I appear to agree upon; Magic becoming more popular makes the hobby easier and more fun to take part in.
Blaming new players for a constant undercurrent of obnoxiousness has nothing to do with them being new
I feel like I should state something for the record; exclusively casual players don’t play PPTQs or WMCQs. They don’t care about the end game. The only big event I can think of that would guarantee a casual turnout is a Prerelease, because casuals don’t care about byes or qualifying for things – they play to have fun, and get shiny new cards. Saying that the WMC is more accessible to casual players at the expense of tournament quality is, frankly, bunk.
I’m not saying that it’s not a worse version of Nationals – I have no idea – but if it is, it’s certainly not because of casual players. These tournaments are not aimed at those people, and those people are not the ones with gargantuan playmats and awful manners, ruining the experience for everyone else. I get the feeling that this may be an example of the author lumping new and casual players into one super category of suck rather than a genuinely levelled complaint, so with that in mind: unfortunately, some of these newer players are going to be inconsiderate.
As will some of the older players, some of the casuals, some of your workmates, some of the people at this party, etc. etc. Blaming new players for a constant undercurrent of obnoxiousness has nothing to do with them being new, and everything to do with scapegoating.
It’s never us you see, we’re always so considerate. How dare people who have been playing for less years than me have the audacity to try and see their pairings at the same time as everyone else! Including myself! Damn new players. If they weren’t here, the organisers wouldn’t have chronically underestimated the numbers, and I’d be slightly more comfortable!
The problems with crowding also apply to the draft situation. The Glasgow shop is small, sure, and on a Friday it will struggle to host more than 3 pods comfortably. However, as stated in the article itself, more people playing means that it is easier to organise events yourself. I know for a fact that the shop in question is relatively quiet some nights, so organising a draft where you can feel comfortable and talk easily is as easy as posting on Facebook that you would like to do so. Several of my buddies have done exactly that for a weekly Standard league, with entry fees buying prize support from the shop. Drafting with 30 of us loud, obnoxious west-coasters isn’t the only option available.
Drafting is in no danger, and does not need ‘rescued’. Limited is widely supported by Wizards of the Coast through FNM, Grand Prix, Pro Tours, the WMC itself and every other iteration of competitive play beyond the WMCQ. The issue appears not to be with casual or newer players, but rather with Wizards for how they have structured the World Cup Qualification process. Wizards had stated that the qualification system is under review and will undergo a process of trial and error before assuming an optimal configuration.
As the number of Magic players continues to grow, so the tournaments will become harder to qualify for. Obvious, really. This doesn’t mean that there are less people who want to reach a high level of competitive play, but it does mean a smaller percentage of them will get there. It does not mean that Wizards care less about that segment of their customer base.
There will always be a top 8, whether there are 40 or 4000 people playing, and that’s unfortunate for those who up until relatively recently enjoyed being big fish in small ponds. More PPTQs means a larger Pro Tour with a bigger venue, more paperwork, less profit, all to accommodate your feelings that you shouldn’t have to share a room with so many people? Wizards have recently stated a desire to make the Pro Tour more exclusive and harder to get into. This is reflected in the recent changes to qualification via Grand Prix, for example. In this particular instance, the author’s complaints would appear to have very little to do with making these sorts of events more appealing to ‘casuals’.
There is no distinction in my mind between casual and competitive players
As both a casual and relatively new player, the “hybridity of culture” mentioned is something I would expect to be extremely relevant to how I play MTG, and who I play it with. However, I do not find this is the case. I play Magic with people who have been playing for years and made money from it, and I play with people who have been playing for less time than I have. Sometimes it’s in a tournament, and sometimes it’s in a Planechase-Emperor-Commander game. There is no distinction in my mind between casual and competitive players, because many people are both. There is no sudden moment, after you win your first Standard win-a-box, where you are accosted by a man in a trench coat and offered the choice between the red pill of serious playing for profit only, and the blue one of 5-colour 3-card combos.
I feel this lack of distinction is best illustrated with an example. When I started playing, I played with people who were awful at Magic. Largely, they still are. We went from kitchen table to Commander, and at no point did we ever not have fun. Then I met some people who were excellent players, and they taught me a lot about how to tell the difference between good and bad cards, and even though I was still new and had never cared about tournaments, we had a lot of fun playing together. Now, I have a Standard deck, and I once beat a Pro Tour competitor at a Prerelease. I don’t think I’m in any danger of winning a WMCQ any time soon but I am certainly looking towards Magic with a more competitive eye.
Equally, the people who taught me to play are still building mono-white lifegain decks with no real win condition. It doesn’t matter. These supposed divisions bleed into each other, and forcing a distinction will have no effect other than alienating the people who make it so easy to place artificially high at release events. A large part of the reason I continue to play MTG is the community, and how welcoming they were to me at first. Magic is a large part of my life now; it’s how I know most of my friends, it’s how I met my partner and it’s how I spend a lot of my free time.
Of course, there were those people – the ones with dyed black hair, black T-shirts with references to Pro Tours and sets I don’t recognise who reminded me that it was THEIR bridge I was coming to, using old nick names for cards and refusing to explain mechanics, making me feel like I was doing something wrong by even attempting to enjoy myself while playing a game. However, they were few, and the values of their self-imposed sub-sub-culture didn’t impact on the rest of us, who realised the importance of eradicating these divisions to ensure the health of the community and our mutual enjoyment.
Maybe one day, I’ll beat them at a PPTQ, and then concede in the final just to get boosters… Or maybe someone I taught to play will beat me and go on to qualify. What is certain, though, is that I will continue to enjoy playing this game, and I will do my best to welcome new players to whatever formats we share – even if it is just so I win more boosters at casual tournaments.
Thanks for reading, thanks for sharing,