The Impact Of The Growth Of Magic: The Gathering For UK PPTQ Grinders – Wisdom Fae Under The Bridge
“Bigger, Better, Faster, More! Or not, let’s see – a critical discussion of the impact of the growth of Magic: the Gathering for UK PPTQ grinders.”
…Enter Fod (stage left), plosive, pugnacious, pantomime villain of Glasgow.
It has to be said, the most tedious thing is the assumption that being in front of someone is some sort of bluff. I’m sure that a fair number of people reading this article – my first for Manaleak.com – will know who I am, through acquaintance or more likely by being able to put a name to a face at a PTQ. I’ve been playing since Exodus, attending PTQs throughout the country since Apocalypse, and I’ve even done well enough a couple of times. I’m a bigger deal up in the north, where I waylay passers-by from under a cushy bridge I acquired.
I’m a Masters student at University of Glasgow’s sociology department, which influences the way I think about the game as a social phenomenon, some of which makes of interesting writing material (although in all seriousness, I can play too, so will have a fair amount of things to say about playing, thinking about, building decks for and drafting Magic: the Gathering).
This article will be considering the game’s unprecedented growth and prosperity in the last 8 years or so. This 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. Rarely, though, are things as black and white as this. To what extent does this hyper-genesis of new players positive for UK PTQ grinders?
The most obvious point in this regard has to be the fact that Wizards of the Coast is a business, so clearly they will be very happy about the expanse of the game. This is a very important knock on effect for all Magic players, including PPTQ grinders, which is that the game will continue to be supported because it is profitable. I know I’d have something of an identity crisis if the game went under. So, that’s great. The continued growth could also theoretically represent a wide range of bonuses for the player base, in terms of how many PPTQs the country in question gets, or GPs, or perhaps events like Starcity’s 5k events, although such things are yet to materialise in the UK to any great extent.
Secondly, this should mean a greater number of tournaments being ran in general on a local level, which is also a positive thing, so long as the incentives are good (otherwise, it’s not terribly relevant). Beyond this, there is the excellent benefit of not struggling to get players for the bread and butter tournaments locally (such as FNM). Years ago, I worked in Highlander Games in Dundee, and desperately wanted to foster a weekly constructed event. This basically consisted of trying to bully, con, manipulate, and in all manner of other ways bring players in to play Standard either willingly or under duress. Often I would also need to do this to get a draft pod going, including phoning people up, getting them out of their beds (not as bad as it sounds, we drafted at 1pm… gamers…) to draft “for the shop”.
It’s just not like that anymore – Glasgow recently had 5 drafts on a Friday night, and Dundee runs three or four a week. That’s good, because it means players can play on any given night, but also sustains the survivability of local shops. I’m using Scotland as an example, because I live here, and know a bit about what is happening in the major Magic centers up here, but I expect they are also indicative of what is happening elsewhere in the UK.
Finding someone to play Magic with and getting a lift to a tournament all become easier to a degree, although this is less true than it seems (see The Bad, below). This is all obviously great; back in the day I used to have to get on a train for several hours to get to an event which was expensive, time consuming, stressful and generally obnoxious in a number of ways. This season, I’ll fly to the Irish PPTQ and get lifts to both Sheffield and Manchester (I’ve got on a Megabus at 4AM to play a PPTQ the same day, and got on another one at 10.30PM, to PPTQ on Manchester before – never again). Ironically, it’s probably the Dundee one I’ll get on the train for.
Borrowing cards is just easier because not everyone just goes to all the PPTQs, and more people means more cards in circulation, whereas before there were maybe only 50 people in Scotland who had substantial collections, which made borrowing high demand cards pretty difficult. I actually have a pretty decent collection now, but I remember being skint, not having the cards, and having to work like hell to get 4 copies of Chase-Rare-of-the-Moment. I’m glad other people who want to step up their game don’t need to get over that particular tedious hurdle. Being able to find enough good people to have a decent test group is basically a requirement if you want to get anywhere, too, and a higher number of players in the pool allows for this to be more realistic (although, again, see The Bad later the problems with this).
Trading is also worth mentioning as it is distinct from borrowing in two ways (for the purposes of this article). Firstly, there are more people so again more cards in circulation, which means there is more potential to get the cards you want by giving people the cards they need. This is helpful. But in addition to this, there are a greater number of new players, many of whom are playing different formats to whatever the PPTQ season is (such as Commander), which means you actually have two different sorts of resources – Commander cards and tournament staples. Before, trading was more of an exercise in trying to get someone to take a £4 card in exchange for their £5 card, and it was something of a grind. Now, you can trade away your 5/5 dragon with a cool ability for 5RR (the Commander card) for their boring land (the tournament staple) without feeling bad, because the dragon probably is worth money too.
Lastly, the growth of the game might result in some degree of assimilation into mainstream culture, which in turn reduces the “stigma” of playing the game. I wouldn’t hold my breath on this, because I think it’s a slightly tenuous claim (but then, I wouldn’t advise you to consider this as particularly problematic either. As a villain, I know about haters. **** ‘em.)
The PPTQs are ridiculously big compared to the old days! This is a bad thing, especially since people seem completely oblivious to this, and still totally demolish the venue, hog tables with gargantuan duvet sized playmatts, stand around at the pairings for absurd amounts of time and generally fail to be remotely considerate. This is infuriating, but also drastically reduces your chances of winning the PPTQ, which sucks. It would sort of be ok if we got more PPTQs to account for this, but I suppose we used to get a pretty good deal. This shouldn’t be taken as me conceding the point however; because I was pretty happy with getting a good deal.
Worse, this isn’t just a PPTQ level thing. The local shops are *mobbed*. When I draft, I like it to be very quiet, to be comfortable and to be able to relax. This just isn’t possible when you have 3 times as many people and the same amount of space. It also makes it difficult to chat with your mates, and think about draft. It is possible that this isn’t a globally shared phenomenon, because the Glasgow shop isn’t huge, and people on the west coast of Scotland shout over each other in conversation, despite being right next to each other (which is… regrettable.)
All the little changes to the way tournaments are structured, most of which have varying degrees of negative impact on competitive players (although, I realise this is contentious – it is also an article’s worth of discussion in and of it’s self), are largely possible because of the larger number of players. This is because competitive players represent a smaller and smaller percentage of the franchise with the development and promotion of casual formats and associated products causing newer players to develop into experienced casual players, as opposed to PPTQ grinders. Because they don’t have as much clout, wizards can do things which are not good for them, and are good for causal players such as incentivising Core set draft (generally seen as a poor development from the perspective of just about every PPTQ grinder I know), which is decent for the new players because the cards simpler.
Another example which again is contentious is the Magic World Cup, over Nationals. These are much more accessible tournaments, which is good for the masses of casual players because they can play these events, but bad for the competitive players because they are getting what (as far as I know) is largely seen to be a worse tournament.
The importance of draft, a format which most PPTQ grinders really enjoy, and something which many would have considered the centre of their Magic play, has diminished drastically over the last few years. As mentioned above, the changes from expansion draft at Nationals, to core set draft, and then the complete removal of draft in the remodelled events, has left draft in dire need of a dramatic rescue as far as the competitive player is concerned.
To an extent, the way the game has grown has caused something of a hybridity of culture within Magic. Before, a player would play, and the formats would be Standard, Extended, Legacy, Vintage, Sealed and Draft. So they would play, and some would become PPTQ players, and others would become fun players. Now, with the way Commander has become something which Wizards supports and produces cards for, as well as a reasonably large amount of writing on the subject, there is an alternative trajectory.
The distinction I’m trying to make here is difficult to get at, and is perhaps best illustrated with an example. When I was younger, I used to get frustrated with people who wanted to play bad cards, and “do things for fun”, and I’d argue and contest the legitimacy of how they came at the game. Then I grew up a bit, and realized it actually didn’t matter if they wanted to play horrible decks. Now, kids with dyed black hair, black T-shirts with pop culture references and bands I don’t know come to my bridge, and they say to me in a hodge-podge of references to that same pop culture, acronyms about fire (they’re on to me!) and some sort of pseudo Glasgow-American gibberish, that *I’m* doing something wrong, and *I* should like dragons and dire over-costed enchantments! Here the values of the subculture are splitting, and two distinct groups are forming within the same social space, which will naturally result in contention of that social space. I worry for my bridge.
What are your thoughts on this? Please let us know below.
Thanks for reading, thanks for sharing.