Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Event Fees Mania

The original Judge Dredd
Step back folks, because MTG Dad is going to lay down the law, Isperia style.

The latest kerfluffle on social media is all about the $50 event fee being charged by Pastimes for their upcoming GP events.  You can read the open letter from the TO here.  Players are incensed over the $10 increase in main event entry fees.  They're even more upset given a number of statements and promises made, such as the $15 for side events credit being issued.

Let's all take a deep breath.  It's time to face some unfortunate facts.

Competitive Magic is growing at a scary pace.  From GP Vegas to GP Richmond, as gamers we're watching attendance figures jump to nearly ludicrous numbers.  As a trading card game, Magic has set new records in the past year for event attendance.  And it's not just 'special' events like GP Vegas that are seeing increases.  It's happening everywhere.  Records are being set locally by hosts of PTQs and GPs seemingly every other weekend.

Growth does come with a price.  Large events are not uncomplicated affairs to organize.  Judges and other critical staff, coverage teams (when warranted), giveaways, venue fees, and more all contribute to the overall cost of an event.  The larger the event, the more complicated all this becomes and the greater effect this will have on the basic entry fee.  Why?

Let's look at a simple example.  Tomorrow, I'm going to host a GP in my hometown.  I rent a space that will seat 1,500, but have provisions for jumps in attendance marked for every +500 that sign up.  From past experience and growth projections, I'm expecting between 1,400 and 1,800 players.  I plan that I'll need 30 total judges.  I also think I'll need 10 additional 'event staff' to handle everything from security to the 5 professional players I'm told will be attending and deserve extra attention.  I have 2 artists scheduled to sign cards and talk to fans.  I have a food vendor, but know that I can have the site open up to two more kiosks if needed.  I have ordered 900 playmats (700 for the first guests to register on site, 100 for compensation to VIPs and judges, and 100 extra as a cushion that I can sell later at a premium).

The above is an overly simplified example, there are many more variables.  People with their hands out and want to ride the GP gravy train.  And then it happens.

The local airlines are running some reduced fair garbage for my event weekend.  No other major events get scheduled within 200 miles.  People decide that yes, Southern NJ is lovely this time of year (every last one of them is nuts, but who am I to argue?).

All of a sudden, my little, manageable event goes from at most 1,800 expected to 2,700 expected attendees.  And somehow I have to smile and make it all happen.  I have to make special arrangements to get the additional space needed.  I have to scramble and find another 25 judges.  I need to arrange for 2 more artists to keep people happy.  On and on the list goes, scaling up the operation to meet demand.

Regardless of how well I prepared, my costs go up.  Agreed, the take at the door goes up as well.  I won't argue that fact.  But my frustration goes up as well.  The pressure to pull off a great event increases with each new revised estimate leading up to the event.  My personal investment of time and energy increases seemingly exponentially.

How can this be combated?  Different TO's take different strategies.  And I will admit, some of this is pure speculation on my part.  But I am willing to bet that TO's have started to plan for success by making some decisions early.  Instead of bringing in 2 artists, they decide to just go ahead and book 5.  Instead of having 30 Judges selected, they move to hire 40 with a strong contingency plan in place to have more attend.  Instead of 10 event staff, they hire 15.  It's practically self defense.

Which would you rather be known for?  Charging $10 more for the registration fee or being woefully under prepared for the masses when they all sign up in the last week before the event?  One or two bad events can kill a TO.  They don't make a tremendous amount of money on events - this is something I'm sure of.

So Let's Talk Greenbacks
An event with 2,000 people attending is becoming the norm for GPs.  Here is some quick math.  At $40 per entrant, that's $80,000.  Seems astonishing for one weekend, doesn't it?

Now, when that fee goes up to $50, we're talking $100,000 for the event.  Simply bonkers, right?

Granted, I know that there is more money involved when we start talking side events and more, but let's keep this simple for exploration purposes.

What if I told you that for all the effort of a TO for a large event, they may only personally make a few thousand dollars (this is based on a stupid amount of math, some research, and some educated guesses).  Any TO for a GP event, before it has started, has likely put in well over 100 hours of their time.  Let's say the average personal take is $4,000 for an event with 1,500 participants - but that is ONLY if they meet every projection from side events to sales on product at their booth to total attendance.  $4,000, divided by 100 hours...

It's not rocket science, but I'm pretty sure they earned that.  Phone calls.  Meetings.  Planning.  Contingency planning.  Emails.  More phone calls and meetings.  TO's put a great deal of time into events.

There is a flip side.  What if they don't plan well enough for an event and it fails to hit the target by a couple of hundred people?  Who takes the hit?  It isn't the Floor Judges, they get their compensation.  It isn't the artists, they have serious costs to consider.  It's not the event staff who gave up their day to work a door checking bags and wristbands.  The person who is ultimately responsible is the TO.  The TO is on the hook for all profit and loss with an event.

As event attendance grows (but is still difficult to predict) and when the difference between 1,800 attendees and 2,100 attendees can mean the difference between profit and loss, can we blame a TO for raising the rates of the event?

What about Free Stuff?
I felt I had to address this issue separately.  Free playmats have become and expectation.  GPs offer them as
Gold is never free...
a rule, other events offer them as special prizes.

So let's talk about these wonderful pieces of rubber artwork.

GP Richmond set a strange standard that players expect others to fulfill.  I take some exception to holding all TO's to the Star City model.  Why?

Let's look at cost and planning first.  Playmats aren't cheap.  Mass produced, yes, I'm sure they are considerably less expensive than the retail fee we pay for one at our local LGS.  Let's assume they cost $10 a unit (perhaps this is fair).  If I had to predict how many I needed for my GP that I was planning earlier and I figured I needed 2,000 to be safe, that is a commitment of $20,000 - before I've taken in dime one.

What happens when I miss my target and I only get 1,500 participants?  I'm stuck with $5,000 worth of stock I have to eventually find a way to move.  Depending on the artwork, the demand and valuation of playmats vary wildly.  I could get stuck for that $5,000.  Remember my estimate for my personal event profit?  Kiss it good-bye.

The model currently in use is that a TO plans to purchase upwards of 1,000 units for most GPs.  I already showed how that is distributed.  But what if I promise one playmat for participant?  How do I meet demand, especially when I have several hundred more people register than I planned for in the last week?

Star City Games stepped up.  They have the ability to do so.  They have the largest shipping department of any TO, and they can with little difficulty devote some of that department to sending out playmats to the additional registrants.  I doubt that in the end they made much money because of shipping fees, but at least they had the staff and the engine in place to do it.

That's not going to be the case with other TOs.  While most have shipping set up through their stores, none are the size of SCG.  In fact, many of them only have one or two store locations with 10 or fewer staff members.  We can't expect them to make the same promise made by SCG.  It's not going to happen, no matter how much we may all wish that signing up for an event meant we were guaranteed a playmat.

There is a model that would work - if players would be willing to admit something.  We, as players, are a bit lazy.  If we are willing to admit it, and furthermore willing to do something about it then TOs could change the model and everyone could benefit.

What if TO's change the model to one such as this: playmats guaranteed to any player that registers a minimum 21 days (or whatever the order window is to guarantee shipment) in advance, playmats for all VIP registrations, and playmats (or an equivalent bonus prize) for all winners of side-events costing at least $15 to register.  There isn't a TO out there that would lose in terms of having too much stock left over - the math from that point forward is simple.  Some conditions would have to apply to this new model.  None of them would be seen as a drawback by the average player.

This is a model that can be and should be adopted.  But will it?

The Hard Truth
It's inevitable.  Fees for entry into events will continue to rise.  The fact that Pastimes is the first to break the $50 barrier does not change this.  Before the end of the year, we'll likely see a few other TOs test the waters.  Players should instead of complaining should seek ways to engage TOs in conversations about what services they value most at events.  Perhaps having a help desk to refer players to local eateries?  Or maybe players would like to see more artists or a planned event 'after hours' they can attend.

I don't know what form event extras will take over the next year.  With constant growth though, it is impossible for events to remain stagnant.  The old model is no longer sustainable, so let's all find ways to participate in the discussion.

Anyone who reads this has homework.  Log into Twitter.  Find the following accounts: @misterorange, @PESman66, @sunmesaglenn, @ironchefnick, @pastimesonline, @timothypshields and YOUR TWITTER ACCOUNT HERE (just add it in the comments section and I'll update the article). Read, think, and engage these TOs in conversations about what you want to see as a player at events.  Only with your voices can we all see positive change.

Just don't complain to them about the price increases.  It's not worth your time or energy to complain, especially when you have between $400 and a few grand invested in the deck you plan to bring to the next GP.

And that, my friends, is that.


Reblogs, Retweets, & Mentions of all kinds are appreciated - as an independent writer I'm only read when others like what they see and share with their friends.

Spike by Proxy

I like to write about a variety of topics in the Magic Community.  As things strike my interest, I take to the keyboard to hash out my thoughts.  Sometimes it's easy.  The words flow and paint pictures for me.  Other times, it can feel impossible.  My mood poisons the well, making it difficult to function - let alone find time to write.  This occasion is not one of those times.  I'm thrilled today to recap some of my memories  following GP Philadelphia.

New Friends
We've spoken through email, message boards and Twitter.  But this was the first time to meet some very smart and wonderful ladies that represent Magic at its best.  I was honored to meet Kate (Deck Tease Unofficial Fan Club Co-President), Natalie (Cardboard Nirvana on Tumblr), Jennifer (if you haven't heard of Jennisodes, I'm sorry for your loss), and Erin for the first time.  From the moment I met Erin of The Deck Tease Podcast, I knew I was in good hands - even if I felt a little bit like a fifth wheel given how well they all knew each other already.  I ended my day thinking that all four ladies are just the best, and I can't say enough positive things about them without seeming like a fan boy (I know I came off that way when I asked Erin to sign several items).  I am looking forward to the chance to see them all again, and given that 3 of the 4 are reasonably local, I'm sure I'll see them at upcoming events.

Elmer signed by Marshall
I was also able to speak briefly with Marshal Sutcliffe, of Limited Resources fame.  I was really blown away
by how approachable and friendly he was.  For those that haven't had a chance to talk with him, I encourage you to do so if you get a chance.  Richard Hagon was also on-site doing some consulting.  He was also just as personable as you would imagine.

I did miss a chances to speak with a number of people, but that is one of the problems with only attending one day of a three day event.  At the very least I wanted to meet Adam Styborski (Gathering Magic).  I honestly was unaware Adam was there until after I made it home from the event.  One day I'll get my chance though.

Excellent Judges
Now that I've worked a few events as a Judge Candidate, I feel qualified to state the following.  The judges at the event were outstanding.  Every interaction taken by the Judge staff seemed to be calculated to minimize loss of time to the players and to heighten the experience.  I left the day both amazed and pleased at the quality of the staff hired to work the event.  High fives all around.

It could be just me, but I think that women in general were represented amazingly well at GP Philly.  Yes, I spent some of my time talking with some women who I consider to be important to the Magic Community so I could have a skewed outlook, but I also had a sense that there was a much higher percentage of females in the room and playing then I saw at Eternal Weekend and GP Atlantic City - combined.  I don't know if it was just my imagination - I hope it wasn't.  If it is true, it shows how far the game has come over the past year.  Just on anecdotal evidence, I can state we had at least three women playing in a 2HG event I joined late in the day out of about 50 players.  Strong stuff.

The Ride Home
On our way home, I started a couple of different conversations with Jacob to keep me alert.  It had been a long day and I didn't want to fall asleep at the wheel.  Jacob is my younger son.  He's nearly a teenager so I find his observations to be entertaining.  On an hour long car ride late at night, there's nothing better than getting the opinion of a 12 year old.

When he was done complaining that I knew too many people (he can be a little cynical at times), he started to rib me a bit about my finish in the main event.  And in the last main event we played in, GP Atlantic City.  In fact, he went so far as to say he's won two or three more matches than I have in big events.  He was giving me some serious grief.  Jacob is funny though.  Compared to my older son, who as soon as he got out of diapers would peel paint off the walls with his observations about people's shortcomings, Jacob is almost always good-natured with his teasing.  This occasion was no different.

His teasing did give me a chance to reflect.  The event, travel, parking, food and more wasn't cheap.  For the two of us, my total bill for the day likely approached $200.  There are less expensive ways to spend a day.  I didn't have one regret though.  Even my finishing 2-3 - well, 1-3 if we want to be honest, the last win was because my opponent for my last round simply forgot to drop - didn't dampen my feelings.  I will admit a small amount of tilt over my pool for the main event which included Polukranos, Purphoros, and Nylea and with my final results.  And a small amount of upset was felt on my part over losing out in the 2HG round to a game I thought we had under control early.  And I did lose the last round I entered that day, a Mini-Masters I think I should have won....  

...Wait a second, what was my point?

Even after having a run of bad luck on the day, there was something that made it worthwhile.  Jacob did battle to a 2-3 finish on his own with a pool that was a little puzzling.  He did his best with it, and showed me his fortitude.  He was admittedly a little surly around Marshal Sutcliffe earlier in the day coming off of a loss.  I think most players in his shoes would have felt the same way at the time. His wanting to rub in his combined successes during the ride home told me two things I want to share with you all.

The first is that he wants to win.  Losing hurts, and he really doesn't like the feeling.  I don't view losing the same way he does.  To be honest, personally when I lose a Magic match I almost never tilt and I don't value it in the same way.  He sees it as a way to keep score.  It's obvious he wants the tally to favor him at the end of the day.

The other point, and the more important one for me was that I want to see him win.  There are few things to compare with seeing your child to succeed.  As much as he wants to win, I probably want to see him do so 100 times more.  I love to see him mix it up with an older player with years more experience and win.  I especially love it when he does so by demonstrating a deeper understanding of the game than I have.  When we play at home, I'm constantly trying to help him improve his game by showing him things that I've seen other players do.  Nothing makes me happier than to see him emerge triumphant following a tight match.

I shared my feelings with him on our ride home.  I'm not sure he believes me.  But one day, he'll be sitting in the Top 8 of a PTQ and I'll be strutting around like I just won the Super Bowl.  Maybe then he'll appreciate how much I care how he does.  I may never personally reach the point where I'm a Spike.  When Jacob is playing though, I'm a full-blooded Spike by proxy.


Reblogs, Retweets, & Mentions of all kinds are appreciated - as an independent writer I'm only read when others like what they see and share with their friends.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Spring Spoilers - Quit Your Bitch'n

Can you feel it?

Spring is in the air.  The flowers are blooming.  Here in the Middle-Atlantic, it has finally stopped snowing (at least we think it has).   And new love can be seen everywhere we go.  I'm not referring to that sweet little thing in a skirt or shorts that just smiled at you for the first time.  No, I'm referring to something better.

The Journey into Nyx spoilers have begun!

Same Song, New Tune
As with all spoilers seasons, the first couple of announcements made Monday were calculated to wet our whistles. Wizards of the Coast wanted to tease us with fun new mechanics and show off just a little bit of the new art.  The marketing experts who figure out when and how to release information know that they need to start slowly and build to a crescendo.  Tuesday's releases brought out some heavy hitters.  New gods were spoiled, and the world wept.

Wizards wasn't done yet.  If Monday was a warm-up band and Tuesday was the prologue (think 'Ecstasy of Gold' before Metallica takes the stage), then Wednesday was going to be the main performance.  And what a performance!

Today they released the last piece of the great planeswalker puzzle.  A Green/White planeswalker, the last color pairing missing from every fanboy's set made its big debut.  Wizards of the Coast answered finally the promise made long ago.  In Born of the Gods, we were given the missing U/G planeswalker, Kiora.  And today we have Ajani, Mentor of Heroes.

Shouldn't everyone be happy?  Well, apparently not.  No, people are most decidedly unhappy.  That is if you listen to Facebook, Twitter, and your local clutch of teenagers.  People are complaining, again.  "It's not flavorful."  "It's not original."  "It has the weakest ultimate ever."  Normally I would join in with arguing.  I love a spirited discussion about one's parentage.  But this time though, I'm not.  And I'm here to share why.

I have a confession to make first.  I haven't read the actual article that accompanied the newest planeswalker.  I thought it would be best to evaluate it on my own, share my findings and then, and only then, read it.  I won't think less of you if you have read it already.  If you'd like to read the full story, you can find it here.  In the meantime, let's peel back the mask and see if this PW is playable.
A very tough looking Ajani

The first thing to check is the Casting vs. Loyalty test.  This is to Planewalkers as the Vanilla test is to
creatures.  Casting vs. Loyalty answers two questions: when the PW hits the battlefield will it survive an immediate attack and is the cost fair when you look at the starting loyalty.  Ajani, Mentor of Heroes stacks up fairly well in both tests.  First, it hits the ground running at 4 Loyalty (soon to be +1).  That will survive all but an outright 'kill the Planeswalker' type of response.  And starting at 4 Loyalty for a CMC of 5 isn't bad either.  It's not stellar, but it is more than fair.

Ajani has three abilities.  Unlike most Planeswalkers, the first two abilities result in positive changes to Loyalty counters.  That's right, Ajani is all about net gain.   The first two abilities are important, flavorful, and helpful in most formats.

The first, distribute three +1/+1 counters as you choose to creatures you control is great.  In fact, it's better than that.  You get to do this (theoretically) every turn you want to.  Common Bond, a 3CMC G/W spell only did 2 counters each time you cast it.  Even if you only consider this a Common Bond for three counters that you'll get to fire twice in most cases, it seems pretty solid to me.

But wait (says the guy selling Ginsu), there's more!  The second +1 ability is not horribly awful.  In fact, when you compare it to the first ability, it is better than that.  It is downright perfect.  Boardstates generally evolve into one of two states - you could have creatures that would benefit from the counters and thus the first ability or you could have a boardstate with limited or no creatures.  While you don't get to search for and play a creature of a given CMC or less, you do get to go search for one and move it to your hand.  Or a planeswalker.  Or an enchantment.  And you get to do this card draw and selection in G/W, not the standard blue.  This is powerful juju, and I think people should step back from the cliff just based on this ability alone.

No Bitch'n?
Most people are upset at the ultimate.  I'm not, but here is their complaint in a nutshell: gaining 100 life is either the most useless or the most annoying ultimate ever.  I admit, as an ultimate it seems pretty ridiculous.  And not in the, 'Hey every turn you can make a 7/7 Flying Deathtouch Zombie Angel token,' ridiculous.  More of the, 'We have to get up to 8 Loyalty, wait one more turn and all we get is this stupid t-shirt ridiculous'.

I agree that it doesn't win games outright.  What it does do is it puts most games out of reach, which is almost the same thing.  But if you're worried about someone going ultimate with their Ajani, MoH, against you, you're doing something wrong.  I'm not upset though.  If I had this on the battlefield under my control, I wouldn't even look at the third ability.  Neither should anyone else.  Good players facing it will target and kill Ajani before it ever gets to the point.  Good players that have it on their side of the battlefield will likely never see greater benefit from going ultimate than they will from the first two abilities.

It's a -8 ability.  It's a negative 8, with no way of protecting itself (the last statement is not completely true, but it will stand up in court and I don't think it's important to explain further right now).  People who want this Ajani in their deck will want it for the +1/+1 effect.  They'll want it for the card smoothing effect.  They really won't care about the ultimate.  And neither will opponents.  Going ultimate with a PW is wonderful, but it's also not why they're played.

We play cards for the guaranteed payoff, not the perceived, best-case scenario.  Ajani's best case can be a nightmare for players in any format.  It's not to be feared though.  How often does a PW ultimate, on average?  Even the best ones?  I'll bet it's less than 20% of the time.  No one plays a PW for the ultimate ability alone.

Whether you're arguing about the 'value' of this newest planeswalker or if you're bemoaning the -8, do us all a favor.  Stop.  Your.  Bitch'n.

It's not the end of the world.  It's also way too early to determine how much of an impact this card will have on Standard or any of the other formats (I personally think it will be stupidly powerful in Limited).  People will want it and many, many will find success with it.  Until the meta changes in Standard, I think we can all sit back, grab a frosty beverage and relax.

Oh, and I have five bucks on it appearing in a Top 4 deck before the end of May....


Reblogs, Retweets, & Mentions of all kinds are appreciated - as an independent writer I'm only read when others like what they see and share with their friends.

Endnotes: Coming to GP Philadelphia this weekend - April 11-13?  Feel free to look me up on Twitter.  I'll be there Saturday, slinging spells with Jacob, my son and fellow lover of Limited/Sealed.  If you'd like to hit me up during the day, my Twitter handle is @mtgdad.  If you can't find me or I'm not answering, stop in at CardTitan and ask for Nick or Miles.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Drafting BotG & Theros: Mistakes Were Made

Limited drafting is my bread and butter.  I don't have time or patience to figure out what the meta-game is for Standard.  And the price tag for entry into Modern and other formats is basically beyond my reach.  So I pride myself on being a 'limited' player.  No pun intended.

I need to make a confession to you, though, about my lack of success in draft since October.  I haven't had much luck with Theros, and with the inclusion of Born of the Gods my Limited game has gone right out the window.  My last draft was a 1-2 drop and most have been similar.  I went home last night, dejected, dragging my 12 year-old home with me as well (he went 2-2 as well, so we were both out of the price support).

What's a guy got to do to win a draft?  Heck, I'd be happy finishing with a winning record.

So as puttered around Saturday making breakfast, I was still smarting.  My youngest, being the perceptive gentleman I've raised him to be asked what was wrong.  I grumbled something about feeling off of my game.


"What?" I so eloquently replied when I finally answered him.

"Let me look at your deck.  It's still together, right?"

"Sure son, it's together.  Go ahead and look, but you won't find anything wrong with it.  It was a great deck, I don't understand how I did so poorly."  I went back to stirring my eggs, grumbling some more to myself.

Following breakfast came the wonderful chore of cleaning up the mess I had made in the kitchen.  As I did, I could hear him rustling in the other room.  No sooner had I finished than he came in, beaming.  "I know what you did wrong," he declared.

Uppity kid.  How could he know what I did wrong?  I didn't even know what I did wrong, and he's going to tell me?  Kids, they think they know everything these days.

"Alright then, Mr. Super Draft.  Tell me, what did I do wrong?"

And tell me he did...

Old Dog
He dragged me out to the living room, where had commandeered one half of the card table.  On it, my deck was displayed in it's naked glory.  He had it sorted in a pretty standard formation.  The cards were organized from left to right with increasing CMC and was split in half with bottom row just being spells.

"Ok," he says, "Let me show you where you messed up." Allow me sum up how I felt at that moment.  First, I'm ticked I went 1-2 drop the night before.  Second, I'm not totally awake as my big Saturday morning breakfast was weighing a little heavy on me.  And thirdly, I was feeling a little ticked that he thought he knew something I didn't.

And then he started to talk...

The Deck
Shoot, there I go again.  Getting ahead of my story.  Before we go one step further, I need to lay out my deck for you in the same way he did for me.  Here it is in CMC and sorted:


1x Battlewise Hoplite
1x Vaporkin
1x Phalanx Leader
1x Traveling Philosopher
   Match one, the Philosopher was a Coastline Chimera
1x Elite Skirmisher
1x Ghostblade Eidolon
1x Triton Fortune Hunter
2x Observant Alseid
1x Heliod's Emissary
1x Chorus of the Tides
1x Sealock Monster
1x Mnemonic Wall
1x Prescient Chimera
1x Horizon Scholar
1x Elspeth, Sun's Champion

2x Battlewise Valor
1x Stymied Hopes
1x Hold at Bay
1x Nullify
1x Dawn to Dusk
1x Griptide

1x Temple of Enlightenment
8x Plains
8x Islands

(Take that Nathan Holt, 40 cards)

Pretty strong W/U deck, right?  Not so fast there Sparky, my son has something to teach me (or is that us?).

New Tricks
"Your first mistake was playing Dawn to Dusk.  It's an awful card, and you've got Revoke Existence in your sideboard.  You should have played that instead."  I argued with him.  I told him about all the upside to Dawn to Dusk.  And then it hit me...not once did I capitalize on the full potential of the card in the 8 games I played the night before.  Could the kid be right?  Nah, there's no way he's right.  Dawn to Dusk would not only get rid of an enchantment, but I could get one out of my graveyard as well.  Surely it was better?

"The next thing you did wrong was you've got 9 playables with a CMC more than 3.  Look at my deck."  Having said this, I was immediately suspicious.  After looking and pulling cards out though, I was a little bewildered.  I was so confused at what I saw that I went through his deck from the night before again, but I found no proof of shenanigans.  He had 3 cards over 3 CMC.  Now, I'm not sure if he's 100% with his draft choices, but after shuffling through his deck a third time I could see it had more synergy and speed than mine.  In the current Limited format, he obviously made some great choices while picking cards.

"Jacob, I can see were I went wrong.  Thanks.  I'll try to be more aware of what I'm picking next time."

"Dad, I'm not done."  Really?  You found something else that I did wrong?  Well then, let's see about this.

"Go ahead buddy, show me what else I did wrong."

"Well, you don't have any 1 drops."  Again, I argued.  But it was futile.  He was right.  Sure, in my colors during my draft I didn't see any choice 1 drops that I could recall, but that didn't mean that I there weren't any.  He may have a point here.  Is it wrong not to be able to play a creature on the first turn?  Maybe it is, especially with how fast the format has become.

"Oh, and dad?  You also had a problem with 2 drops.  Two of your four playable creatures had restrictive casting costs."  I'll grant him that one.  With Battlewise Hoplite and Phalanx Leader in my deck, if my mana was off when I drew I could be in trouble.

Mostly Right
"It's not all bad, dad.  There are some things here that are great."  He went on to show me what he liked about the deck, from the choice of Hold at Bay (it did win a game for me, essentially Fog in white is pretty sweet and most players don't seem to realize its potential) to having both Horizon Scholar and Ghostblade Eidolon.  He also pointed out that swapping the Chimera for the Philosopher was a good idea, but I should have also taken out Sealock Monster.

"Why should I have gotten rid of Sealock?  He's awesome!"  My arguments are always more eloquent in my head.

"Dad, it's too slow and conditional in this format."  Yes, my 12 year old just used the conditional argument against me.  Stink of it was, he was right.

So we talked a little bit more.  As we did, I realized two things.  First, I really need to think a little bit more about my casting cost in this format.  I often rush a little bit too much when making picks.  Instead, I should think about where I am more and worry about how to make it all fit into the big picture.  I did recall an Omenspeaker being available at the same time as the Sealock, perhaps I should have taken it.

The other thing I realized is this kid is bright.  He knows his stuff.  No, he's not perfect.  But he does take his time to consider the big picture a lot more than I do.  He can frame it better than I can - what he needs to win.  He isn't as driven as I am by the big, bad creatures.  No doubt in mind, when he has another year or so of experience he's going to have other players begging for mercy.

Even if I keep drafting the big baddies, at least I know one of us will do well.


Reblogs, Retweets, & Mentions of all kinds are appreciated - as an independent writer I'm only read when others like what they see and share with their friends.

1. The joke about 40 cards is in good fun, I'm sure Nathan Holt actually runs the occasional 40 card draft deck...right?
2. This article is certified 100% #crackgate free.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Judging Isn't for Wimps

This past weekend, I was selected as a Judge Candidate to work a PTQ in Mount Holly, NJ.  I arrived early, with my red pen and phone fully charged.  I was excited to see some people I had met through the Judge program again, as well as for the chance to meet my Regional Coordinator.  But that was the only reason I was excited.  Preying on me was an L1 Practice Test I had taken a few days before and had failed to pass.

That test weighed on my mind.  I knew I missed two questions, the difference between passing and failing, on what amounted to simply not thinking clearly about the problems presented.  The remaining questions that I missed pointed at a particular deficiency of mine in understanding the finer points of the 600 section of the Comprehensive Rules.  I was discouraged and starting to doubt my continued pursuit of becoming a Judge.  Even in light of this, I was determined to give the day my best effort.

Leave Your Problems at the Door
My best effort.  Seems easy to write something this.  We've all been at that place where we have to do an event with people around us who don't understand the baggage we're carrying.  My baggage on Saturday was hobbling me, so much so I didn't recognize it.  I felt like a leaf travelling down a gutter to a storm drain.  You know that the drain will be your end and it's coming up fast, but you keep hoping to get hung up so you can hold on a little while longer as the water and the rest of the world rushes past.

I won't get into my personal baggage that I brought with me to the PTQ.  It's not worth your time and to be honest, my lawyer would be upset with me if I spoke about it other than to say it's work related.  But I will say how it has recently affected me.  I'm sleeping between 2-4 hours most nights.  I'm pretty sure I'm gaining weight (which never looks great on me).  I've been short with people around me who I care about.  All of this has been going on for a few months, and I don't know when it will be over.

When I walked through the doors of the National Guard Armory for the PTQ, I resolved to put my best foot forward.  It's a great concept, but it's hard to do when you're already two steps back.  As a Judge (or in my situation, a candidate), we owe it to the players to be well rested, excited for the day, and focused on our task.  I batting barely batting .333.

Walking Laps
For those curious about working a Standard event with about 150 players, I'll save you some time as to the one negative.  It involves standing or walking.  Occasionally jogging.  On cement floors.  All.  Day.  Long.  Still want to Judge?  Then let me pair you with Mr. Arrowsmith.  He not only does this, but does laps around the room.  And there was a part of me that loved every minute of it.  For a time, I was distracted.  Every discussion about rules was a moment of reprieve; a chance to focus on a problem that wasn't my life.

Weighing constantly in the back of my mind was not passing that stupid test (no, it's not stupid - it's just the way I felt at the time).  Little doubts crept in when I wasn't engaged.  Was I just not good enough to do this?  Nearly everything I said to a player was being watched and evaluated.  After calls, I'd be pulled aside.  One of the other three floor Judges would review with me what I said, and much of the time how I could have done better [Folks, this is important, the Judge program is about mentoring and helping you improve; it's not anyone's fault but mine that I wasn't in the right state of mind to start the day].  After each of these talks, I felt a little less like I belonged there, and more that I should be thinking of an excuse to end the day early.  The worst part of this was, the Judge I really do look up to in the program had lent me one of his shirts at the start of the day, and I'd be lying if there wasn't a small part of me that didn't feel like I was letting him - and the shirt - down.  Seems stupid, right?

Critical Mass
And then IT happened.  I soloed a call (only maybe my second or third of the day) early in round six on table 1.  Yes, that table 1, the table where the opponents are definitely both 6-0.  Where both opponents will get really upset at a bad call.  No other Judges rushed to the table to watch over me; I was all alone.  I listened to the players ask about a simple rules call dealing with casting Rapid Hybridization on an Indestructible target and whether or not the player would get the token.  I 'knew' the answer.  But I had come to rely on confirming my calls throughout the day with other Judges.

The doubt crept in.  Should I check with another Judge?  Was I 100% positive of my answer?  So I looked up...and there was the Head Judge walking in my general direction.  Salvation, I thought.

I asked the players to wait a minute and flagged down the HJ.  I explained the play in progress and what I thought the answer was.  Somewhere between not getting much sleep in recent weeks and feeling down about my practice test scores, I misinterpreted the HJ.  My explanation of our communication here wouldn't do the situation justice, but take it from me that he fully believed he was giving me a positive, 'Yes, that's what you do,' and I was getting a, 'Why are you bothering me with this and don't you know the answer,' type response.  He didn't know my baggage.  He didn't know I wasn't in my best form.  And I had only worked with him once before.  To be honest, I was a little intimidated by his knowledge of the rules.  It was a perfect storm for a communication error - and it was largely on my shoulders.

I felt as if I had bothered him with something beneath him (I couldn't see any other Judges at the time) and I was pretty sure I had washed up my chances to work another event with him.  Ever.  Which would really kill my chances to get more practice as a candidate.  He's not at every mid-sized event in my area, but he is at a lot of them.  I saw my chance to be a Judge slip away.

The call, for those curious, was yes the player does receive the token off the Rapid Hybridization.  (Now back to the story, alright??).

I lived the next few hours in fear that I was done for with the program.  I doubted the HJ could look at me and say, "You'll never be a Judge," but that is how it felt.  I was down on myself because I was WAY out of sorts, professionally and personally before I even walked through the doors earlier in the day.  I honestly thought I'd go home, take of my black slacks and put them away except for funerals.  I would be lying if I didn't have an image going through my mind in the time between round 6 and the Top 8 of people who start something too late in life.  I'm 40.  Had I reached the point where I was untrainable?  Was I like one of those sad saps that people have pity for because they lost their job making widgets and now had to learn how to be a barista to make ends meet?

The Judge program is about mentoring (yes, Virginia, I've said it before and it will be on the test later so pay attention).  After the day calmed down, a new L1 was certified (congrats Dan!), and I had been moved to cover a side event, the Head Judge asked me to step into his office.  Uh oh, my gut tells me.  The past few months have not been kind to me.  Here's where I'll be told I should try something else.  His first words weren't, 'Pack your bags', or 'Are you sure Judging is for you?'.

Instead, it was a chance for me to get a glimpse beneath the curtain that is a L2 mentoring.  He didn't berate me or tell me to get on the first train out of town.  Instead he talked, asked questions, and shared observations.  He was more patient with me in 20 minutes then I've been with myself in two months.  Was it ALL wine and roses?  No.  I didn't have the ability to vocalize what I've been going through.  My problems robbed me of speech in that regard and I still wish I had a chance to reciprocate some of the advice I was receiving by letting him into my head.  But I did have a chance to listen.  Two important things were said to me in that meeting, a question and a statement.  I think when I can answer the one and believe the other, I'll be in a better place as they are linked in purpose.  "Where's your confidence gone to, the confidence I saw in you at the last event you worked for me?" was the question.  The statement was just as important, "If I didn't want you here or think you could do this, I wouldn't have you here."

That is what mentoring is in two concise thoughts.  It's having confidence in someone when they seem to have lost it themselves.

I'll find mine.  I'll get past what I'm going through eventually.  We all have to whether our own storms.  I'll take another L1 Practice test (or five if necessary), and when I'm ready, I'll sit for my L1.  And eventually, I'll work my way back up to the level of confidence that not only he sees in me, but that I know I possess.

PTQ Take-Aways
The PTQ was hard on me because of what I brought with me.  But I also decided rather early on, that I need to leave with some things to work on to get better as a Judge.  Here are the top items that I ended the day with to remember for next time, hopefully by sharing them someone else will gain a benefit:

1. Repeat and Rephrase - After hearing a rules question by a player, look at them and repeat it, if necessary slightly rephrasing it, so that you make it clear that you have both heard their complaint and that you understand the points.  Make sure both players agree before rendering any ruling.
2. Come Prepared - I grabbed some blue painter's tape as an afterthought when packing for the day.  Who knows, I thought, maybe we'll need it.  It was very well used.  Never will I go to Judge an event without it again.
3. Take Notes - I didn't take as many notes as I wished, but those that I did both bring with me and take from the day were invaluable to me.  If you Judge and don't write stuff down as the day goes on, you're doing it wrong.
4. Better Shoes - My six-month-old NB black sneakers are great for day to day wear, but I have to find something more comfortable for all day events.  Of a 14 hour day, I was easily on my feet for 11 of those hours.  This was probably too much, but I wanted to show everyone I could carry my weight.
5. Be Honest with Myself - I will do my best not to sign up for or work events if I'm not mentally in the game.
6. Find a Rabbi - No, not a religious one.  I'm not Jewish (nobody is perfect I'm told).  Rather, I need a good, personal adviser for Judging and for life in general.  Make that two Rabbis.  The HJ for the event is my mentor, and I need to make better use of him - but I really need to find someone more local.  I'll look, but I have a feeling I'll be spending a lot of time on IRC.
7. High Five - Get at least two high-fives a day when working events.  (It's a thing, don't ask for an explanation).
8. Judge MORE - Most of my actual experience comes from a few large events and a lot of limited draft at my LGS.  I need to stop messing around and find time to Judge Standard.  Now all I have to do is convince the wife that she really doesn't want me around Wednesday nights either...

(Special thanks to Dimah, Dan, Shawn, Michael, Mike, & Nicola - you guys rock.  Thanks to Ron's Comic World for hosting the event.)


Reblogs, Retweets, & Mentions of all kinds are appreciated - as an independent writer I'm only read when others like what they see and share with their friends.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Magic Diversity Challenge - A New Year's Resolution

My regular readers know me as a father who is raising two young men and that Magic the Gathering has provided me with a meaningful way to connect with my younger son. I can't help but look at the Magic Community from the perspective of a parent and how it will impact on his development. Most of the time, I see what every gamer sees - a wonderfully supportive environment full of learning and social interaction. Other times, I see or hear about a behavior that isn't as supportive. This article isn't about pointing a finger at behavior that we find unacceptable. Rather, it is about two wonderful groups that have taken it upon themselves to help combat unacceptable behavior, spread the good word about the benefits of diversity in gaming, and ultimately, a challenge to every person in our community who has a chance to influence it for the better.

Traditionalists believe that you should start every New Year with a resolution to improve yourself or some aspect of the world you inhabit. Many people with special interests tend to make resolutions that focuses on their area of interest. Today, I'm going to share with you my resolution for 2014 in the area of Magic the Gathering. I'm doing so in the hopes that after you read this, you'll adopt it for yourself. I doubt everyone will who reads this article will do so - but I'm sure many of you will.

If you have the fortitude to step over the line in the sand with me, you'll make a difference to the way we all interact with our community for the better. If think you have what it takes, then read on as I introduce two wonderful people to you: Tifa Robles (@tifarobles) of the Lady Planeswalker Society and Trevor Murdock of Planeswalkers for Diversity.

Question: Would you both take a moment to introduce yourselves and explain how you became involved in Magic?

Tifa: I’ve been playing video games and family board games my entire life. Games have always been a passion and inspiration of mine. In college, I started playing strategy games, starting my addiction with Settlers of Catan and learning games of all types. Eventually, I started working at a board game store where not only did my collection and knowledge grow rapidly, but I was introduced to Magic tournaments. I fell in love with the atmosphere and the excitement of the new release of M11 before I even learned the game itself. It wasn't long before my boss sat me down and taught me the basics in a Winston draft (not my recommended learning tool). My spark was instantly ignited. I started competing heavily within my first month, and it wasn't until then that I realized the sexism integrated in the Magic community. I had loved the friendly people in my shop, but once I was sitting across the table from them as opposed to selling them cards behind the counter, their attitudes took a turn for misogyny. Suddenly, it was considered silly for me to think I could be good at Magic and conversations about my breasts were completely acceptable to have right in front of me. I competed in a GP, and not much later a few PTQs. I never did very well, but I worked hard. I wanted to prove to all those critics and judgmental bigots that women could be competitive and could succeed in the Magic scene. I was also judged by my looks and the clothes I wore A LOT! It was disgusting. After nine months, I was near the end of my college career and needed to find a real job. I was very interested in work at Wizards of the Coast and had a friend recommend me for Customer Service/Game Support. I worked there during my last three months of college and six months later was hired onto the Magic Brand Team. It was a great opportunity that taught me a lot about Magic, the community, and myself. But recently, after two years on the team, I left to help grow LPS more than I could with the constraints of being a Wizards employee. LPS is now a global organization with nearly twenty chapters that have started nationwide, constantly gaining national attention from many media outlets, that only now I can be involved with. [Ed. note: Tifa also blogs regularly, you can find her here].

Trevor: I actually started playing Magic in the ‘90s, the way it was intended: while friends were creating role-playing game characters. After my playgroup went separate for various reasons, I was left with a single deck (featuring pestilence rats and pestilence) and no one to play with. Several years later, when my oldest daughter started being interested in card and board games, I nabbed a Guildpact Izzet Gizmometry theme deck so we could play. Eventually my daughter lost interest but I found a casual playgroup. One of the members suggested I check out the competitive scene to help the group deal with M10 rules changes. After FNMs, drafts, and one pre-release later, I was  hooked. After becoming an FNM regular and then interested in PTQs and GPs, I started Booster Victim as a way to poke fun at the steep learning curve in Magic. What started out as humour led to a serious interest in making Magic more accessible to everyone.

Q: What event made you realize that you needed to create your group and how old is your group now?

Tifa: It wasn't until female friends of mine showed an interest in learning and playing at my house, away from the men who knew how to play in our lives, that I realized the desire and need for a female-friendly group. The group started in April 2011 and moved into an official capacity in stores in July 2011.

Trevor: I had just started following some Magic folks on Twitter in late 2012 because of Booster Victim, when a trans player, Feline Longmore, won the SCG Seattle Legacy Open, and it was the online onslaught of disgusting (and irrelevant) comments about her gender and her being trans that led me to search for some kind of LGBT support group for Magic players. I just assumed such a thing would exist given how large the Magic community is. When I couldn't find one, I started a Facebook group. I didn't know about LPS at that time and when someone pointed out that it already existed I asked Tifa if I should shut down the group and invite people over to LPS. Instead she actually encouraged us to maintain a separate presence and grow it into more than just a Facebook group; she understood that we would have a wider reach by operating both groups and collaborating.

Q: What about your personal background made you feel you were the right person to start your respective organizations?

Tifa: I have always been deeply passionate and caring about equality - especially when relating to gender issues. Not that I feel it is required, but my background in feminism helps my personal determination push LPS forward. I feel like I understand the deep undertones of sexism and the importance of awareness. Awareness is the first step to progress. Plus, my experience with Magic is varied in a wide range. I was a store employee at tournaments; a participant in tournaments in many levels; an employee at Wizards in two different, very important roles; and I was friends with people in all levels of play from beginner through Pro. I've also always enjoyed event organizing and feel I’m a natural leader. Plus, the sexism and mockery of my group has only pushed me harder because of how relevant and necessary my group is, instead of discouraging me to slow down.

Trevor: Honestly, I don't think I'm the right person to be leading Planeswalkers for Diversity. I think I was one of the right people to co-found it but I hope that in 2014, we garner enough attention to attract new leadership. I do have a lot of experience running (and forming) other non-profit groups though, and I knew I could draw on that and be persistent enough to put in place the building blocks of an organization that will have a big and lasting impact on environments in which Magic is played. For LGBT issues in particular, I am a resource person with the Positive Space Network at the University of Victoria. I co-lead workshops to train other resource persons, so I also have some experience specifically in creating safe spaces to draw from. I think that helped give me a good grounding to express what I am passionate about, which is all about places where Magic is played being inclusive to everyone, not just people of a particular gender, age, race, ability, sexuality, or anything else that has nothing to do with playing a competitive trading card game!

Q: How would a Magic player become involved with supporting your group?

Tifa: It’s as simple at spreading the word in a positive light, joining our group, liking our page, following my Twitter, etc. If you want to make a bigger impact, there is always the option of starting a local chapter, but this takes a huge time commitment that not everyone can commit to. More than anything, we just want to be acknowledged and accepted as a serious group and part of the community.

Trevor: Ditto, though I would also add that we are open to writers at website and to people joining our stream team.

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenge facing our Community?

Tifa: Being comfortable with what has been acceptable for years and not wanting to change. Everyone has to change. Even people who are not acting or speaking offensively need to call others out on their behavior. This can be scary and seem hopeless, but it really is the only way. Just think, in 5, 10, 20, 100 years, we will all look back at this and know which side was in the right. I don’t think anyone looks back at the 1800s and says, “We never should have given women the right to vote. What a mistake.” At least those that do aren't taken seriously.

Trevor: There is an insidious and deeply ingrained attitude that goes like this: "I'm not actually a woman hating homophobe myself so I can say rape jokes or 'that's so gay' and it's fine because I don't mean ill will towards anyone by it." And as Tifa says, even those who aren't comfortable with this attitude because they know it makes the environment too intimidating or uncomfortable for some people are often afraid to speak up because they don't want to be seen as a party pooper. The analogy I like to make though is with that of judges. Often judges tell us things we don't want to hear, and rulings that favor your opponent can suck. But, the presence of judges is vital to maintaining the overall fun level of the game vs. Magic event devolving into a gnarled mass of heated rules arguments. In my book, failing to speak up about non-inclusive language is just like spectating a game and failing to speak up about an illegal play.

Q: What is the biggest challenge facing your respective organization's growth?

Tifa: Being understood and accepted. We are often considered “sexist” ourselves before people even know
what we are. We are not an exclusive club for women only. In fact 60-70% of our player-base is male - mostly husbands, boyfriends, fathers, and brothers, but also friends. In addition, we need to be taken seriously. For example, some competitive players refuse to play at LPS because we are welcoming to “beginners” but we really want all skill groups playing together. We have a member who placed second at a PTQ and many others who are very competitive and really good at the game, and we also have women who are just learning almost every week. We don’t want any woman to say, “That group is not for me,” before they try it out at least twice (since attendance can vary drastically).

Trevor: Our biggest challenge is the same in terms of being understood and accepted, but it looks a little different for us. Although our mandate is broad and about inclusiveness in Magic for everyone, we tend to have an LGBT focus because after women this is the biggest target group for discrimination in the Magic community, and LPS already exists with a spotlight on women. Sometimes this comes across as if we think racism and other forms of discrimination are less important than homophobia, bi-phobia, and trans-phobia (not to mention the fact that LGBT itself is shorthand). Many of our volunteers are not members of the LGBT community themselves and sometimes get accused of being politically correct or "white knighting" which is a pretty ridiculous and off base insult to lob at people who just want to make Magic more enjoyable for more people.

Q: How has the Magic community responded to your groups? Has the response surprised you in any way?

Tifa: It has surprised me on both ends of the spectrum. There has been A LOT of positive response, including articles and interest from well-known writers and commentators in the community, a chapter started and supported by members of LoadingReadyRun, and many Magic-celebs that have even attended LPS when they are in Seattle. I’m constantly grateful for this loving support and hope it continues to grow.
Unfortunately, the reverse side has been just as strong. There are a lot of people who consider us sexist (as mentioned before), stupid, ridiculous, and even the most annoying and demeaning of descriptions: adorable. The forum pages I have found have sickened me with anger, but that means we just need to work harder to crush their opinions and prove them wrong.

Trevor: Similarly, I've been surprised at how readily several pros have been willing to donate their time and energy to joining us on stream, giving us short interviews for our “Peek” series, and spreading information about us. On the reverse side, the fact that so many people think it's more important to use language they consider funny than be sure they are not contributing to a toxic playing environment can be discouraging. I'm also disappointed that we only have a handful of local playgroups so far, though I'd rather have a few very successful and impactful groups than a pile of floundering ones. At least we span multiple continents with our small number of groups: currently the biggest local P4D chapter is actually in Australia. Someone needs to dethrone them!

Q: Since starting your groups, who has been your biggest supporter?

Tifa: As silly as it is to say, my husband. He has not only supported all of my desires for the organization, but challenged and motivated me to go further. It was his idea to start a second chapter in the Seattle area (on the Eastside). In addition, he attends every event with me and makes sure I stay fed and hydrated as I host the tournament. He also helps teach at conventions and constantly gains members and support from big names on Twitter. Without him, LPS wouldn’t be what it is today.

Trevor: Aside from co-founder Nelson Salahub, I would have to say Tifa, actually. Without her I think P4D would have just been a Facebook group that I started hoping someone would take over. I probably would have given up on it without her encouragement and her setting an example with LPS of how much can be accomplished with some persistence to providing some leadership.

Q: Diversity is a watchword that appears to be gaining popularity in recent years. Why do you think it has become such an important topic?

Tifa: It’s part of our cultural evolution to critique our society and make it better. As equality becomes more normal and expected in places like the working world, this will spread into other spaces as well, like hobbies and lifestyles.

Trevor: Specific to the gaming community in particular, we tend to be people who were outcast in some way growing up ourselves and we tend to be people who understand the value of constructive criticism. So it's just bound to happen that someone is going to point out the severe ironic hypocrisy of being hateful towards others because of some external thing about them that has nothing to do with gaming.

Q: If you could fix one problem, address one shortfall, or focus on one aspect of our Community - and do so through the actions of your group - what would it be? Is there something that is a close second?

Tifa: I just don’t want my Magic skills, or anyone else’s for that matter, judged based on my genitals, face, or any other unrelated feature. I want my Magic skills to speak for themselves.

Trevor: Ditto! We just focus more on the "unrelated" part, especially LGBT-ness.

Q: Have either of you run into any unexpected opposition to your group?

Tifa: I expected opposition, but some of the extreme opposition has been shocking. Mostly the crazy far-fetched conclusions about my intentions or my group’s views.

Trevor: Honestly, I'm less surprised by opposition than underwhelmed by support. I don't want to diminish all of the support we have gotten, and we have a handful of incredible volunteers who have made massive contributions to the organization so far. But from the broader Magic community, putting myself in the position of being a Tournament Organizer, or running a Magic-related website, etc. and coming across this group, I sort of think we should be overwhelmed by folks asking to help us out. Obviously I'm biased in being passionate about this an important cause or I wouldn't have started it, but I'm hoping people just didn't know about us and will start coming out of the woodwork to support our mission in 2014.

Q: What do you have planned for 2014?

Tifa: Bigger, better exposure.

Trevor: Actual real life presence in events, more diversity-and-Magic themed content on our website, and regular streaming. Tangible goal for 2014 is by the end of the year, I'd like it to be commonplace to see Planeswalkers for Diversity (and Lady Planeswalkers Society) t-shirts at Grand Prix and on Pro Tour coverage, and for major events to have members of their welcoming booths trained in creating safe spaces for women, people of color, LGBT-folk, and people with disabilities.

We are off to a good start with an invitation from the organizers of GP Sacramento coming up shortly. Now we just need some volunteers!

Q: Every leader has a vision. Where do you see your group in 5 years?

Tifa: I hope my group is known to every engaged Magic player.

Trevor: Well the ultimate goal is to fold because there is no longer any need to point out the benefits of being kind to strangers that you play a competitive game with, but realistically 5 years is too soon for that so I'll stick with expansion of the goals for 2014 but with global coverage not just Australia and North America.

Throwing Down the Gauntlet
Tifa and Trevor, in addition to offering a great interview about diversity, are asking for everyone's help. Everyone who reads this article can contribute - at the end of it I'll even show how players can get in on the action. The main challenge is being made to all Professional Players, writers and bloggers, content managers, website owners, Tournament Organizers, store owners, Judges, and Podcasts. If you provide content or support the community in any way, we're throwing the gauntlet down at your feet. This challenge is also being directed to Wizards of the Coast, to recognize 2014 as the year they make a difference in diversity through their worldwide influence. It doesn't matter if you reach one person or ten thousand through your actions, the idea is simple.

Make a pledge to make supporting diversity in gaming this year through your words and deeds.

The Pledge
As a supporter of Magic the Gathering, you recognize the impact of your contributions. Every day, you see the effect you have on the greater Magic Community. Now it's time for you to take the pledge:

I promise that in 2014, I will make every effort to support diversity. Through my actions, I will effect change and work to end bigotry so that all players will feel welcome. To that end, I will do the following-
  • As a writer or blogger, I will dedicate at least one article to promoting diversity.
  • As a Professional Player, I will seek a way to promote diversity at events I attend.
  • As a content manager, I will work with my writers and media specialists to make certain they promote diversity. I will also take up the pledge personally through my own blog or Twitter feed.
  • As a website owner, I will promote diversity through the content I provide. I will take care to highlight articles that promote Diversity and make those items easy to locate on my site.
  • As a Tournament Organizer, I will offer a free table to any group promoting diversity in gaming and/or I will sponsor at least one side-event to help promote Magic as a safe and interactive game anyone can enjoy. If I offer gaming coverage, I will do a PSA to run at each event promoting diversity.
  • As a Store Owner, I will establish and post a policy that all gamers may feel welcome and that bigotry and hate speech will not be tolerated. I will also investigate becoming a Safe Place.
  • As a Judge, I will be an ambassador for diversity, helping everyone to see the advantage of an open and friendly gaming environment.
  • As a Podcasterer, I will dedicate one episode this year to taking on the diversity challenge and I will promote diversity through my podcasts as the opportunity presents itself.
  • As WotC, we will pledge to promote diversity through our articles, website, and event coverage.
  • As a player, I will take the Gamers Against Bigotry pledge. I won't let my fellow players get away with hate speech and I will notify a Judge when necessary at sanctioned events - even if I am not the person receiving the insult.
Seems easy, right? Here is the best part. There are already two groups that support diversity in the Magic Community. You can contact either of them directly to get their perspective on any number of issues affecting the gaming community. Doing your own interview with Tifa or Trevor will fulfill your pledge. Spend an article talking about their respective groups will do the same. I'm not suggesting that everyone who takes the pledge should limit themselves to these suggestions. I'm only offering them as one way to fulfill your obligation to promote diversity. Be creative!

When you write your article, promote your podcast, or find another way to fulfill your pledge this year, then let Tifa and Trevor know about it. Both Planeswalkers for Diversity (@MTGDiversity) and the Lady Planewalker Society (@MTGLadySociety) have Twitter feeds, and they will be happy to retweet your success to their followers. In this, everyone wins.

Don't Forget Those Judges
We would be remiss if we did not mention an important part of the Magic Infraction Procedure Guide as a part of this article. While we hope and work towards changing the mindset of players, the IPG provides for a method of handling situations that do occur. Unsporting Conduct - Minor or Unsporting Conduct - Major are penalties that can be issued to players that engage in vulgar or hate speech. The IPG is a very well defined document and we all encourage players to be familiar with it and the possible ramifications of violating it. When in doubt - call a Judge.

2014 - The Year We Make a Difference
At the start of every New Year, it is customary to take make a resolution for some type of self-improvement or to perform an act of goodwill. Here is mine:

I promise to give this article to every content site for Magic the Gathering to be used to help promote diversity. I further promise as a blogger, to write at least one additional article promoting diversity and to continue to assist Planewalkers for Diversity and the Lady Planeswalker Society in their mission.

You see that first sentence? If you are responsible for managing a site, you have my permission (as well as Trevor's and Tifa's) to take this article right now and post it in its entirety, so long as you credit the source and keep it intact. If there is a need to edit it, please contact me first via email. You also may take the article to simply distribute it to your own writers to get them to write about diversity this year. This article, interview, and pledge are all one big challenge to the Community.

Are you willing to take the challenge?

Monday, December 23, 2013

2013 Wrap Up, Predictions, and Wishlist

For my last post of the year, I think it important to revisit a few stories that still have some relevance to me, as well spend some time looking forward to next year.  Before we get started though, I have to offer a big thank you to my son Jacob, for dragging me into the world that is Magic the Gathering.  Without him I would have never met some wonderful people, learned about the most amazing game in the known universe, or found a real opportunity to express myself in print.  This has been a great year for me and I have my son to thank for that.  I can only wish that my readers have a chance to develop the same type of relationship with a child, parent, cousin or other family member.  Magic has become our common language.  Mr. Garfield, wherever you are - you are a mage of the first order for having created this wonderful experience that we can share.

For me, 2013 was about two different worlds of Magic.  The first world was about my personal experiences.  Everything from the most trivial - learning about a card interaction - to the most difficult - deciding to work towards becoming a Judge.  My first world was filled with wonder, sometimes daily as I learned one of the most complex yet accessible games I've ever been exposed to.  Kids play it, but true mastery only comes with years of experience.  I yearned regularly not just for new cards but also to understand Magic at a level that many people seem to take for granted.

I started the year privately thinking being a Judge would be a wonderful way for me to become more deeply engaged with the game and community.  As I spent time playing, the thought grew until it wouldn't go away.  Since about halfway through this past year, I've been on a personal quest to become a Judge.  I know others have done it faster, but that doesn't bother me in the slightest.  I'll get there, and when I do I'll do my best to represent the community in a manner that promotes the game, Wizards, and my local stores.

On the other side, I became involved in the larger 'Community'.  I use the capital 'C' here only to emphasize the difference between my local opportunities to play Magic and the national and international Magic communities.  By writing about Magic, even independently, I quickly gained the attention of a broad audience.  With a little help from Twitter and a lot of help from well timed articles supported by some caring Magic community members, I received enough attention and positive reinforcement to keep writing.  If this is the first time you're reading me, I encourage you to go back and take a look at some of my other articles - particularly those that I'll highlight here.

If Wishes Were Horses, Beggars Would Ride
My best writing this year is hard for me to pin down.  Personally what I think of my best achievement had to do with overcrowding at GPs and what I thought could be done to improve them.  Since then, I've learned how far in advance WotC tackles issues.  It wouldn't surprise me in the least to find out that they were already considering how preregistration could be improved to prevent surprises the morning an event started.  I still feel a small sense of pride though thinking back to the events that transpired this year, and what effect I may have had on them as a single gamer - especially given how happy most players seem to be with this change.

Looking forward, there are some things I'm hoping for in 2014.  Here are just a few of them:

A Revision to the HoF Voting System
I still think this needs to happen.  Fan involvement is what makes the Community tick.  The selection process and final voting for the Pro Tour Hall of Fame leaves a bitter taste in every fan's mouth for two weeks every year.  Yes, I understand that Pro's put in a tremendous amount of time and energy to get to the point where they are worthy of consideration.  I don't want to devalue that.  But to sit on the sidelines while every relevant conversation about Magic for two weeks straight is about something that has nothing to do with any of us is tough to swallow.  Fans should have a way to contribute meaningfully - even if our total vote value only contributes to a weighted 20% of the final evaluation.  I stand by this position, and I wish other fans of Magic would take up this cry to review and revise the existing system to make it more inclusive.

Develop Community Recognition or...
I'm deeply torn about this next issue.  Part of me very much wants to see several of the changes I wrote about here happen in the next year.  If nothing else, a broader system for recognizing those that make important contributions should be put into place.  But then we read an article like this one - The Day Kibler Shut Down the World by MTG Color Pie - and I know I have to reevaluate my priorities.  What is more important?  After reading Robby's article, if I had to choose between the two changes I'd want his idea to happen.  Even though his article is incomplete, it is easy to gather his intent.  While I don't play on MODO myself, I can see how important a concept like this is to the long term health of Magic as an online commodity.  I think Robby has identified the crux of the problem facing WotC.  His solution, while more complicated than maintaining the status quo is certainly worth consideration.  I hope for the MODO players the world over that his concept or one of a similar ability to improve MODO is considered by WotC.

The Next Un-Set
If 2013 was the year of Modern Masters, Gods, and the revitalization of WotC's support of EDH, then what could 2014 bring?  Aside from a couple of known quantities (crosses fingers for continued EDH support) I predict the next rabbit that will be brought forth from the WotC hat is the long overdue third Un-set.  Unglued was released in 1998.  Unhinged was released in 2004.  Given just that information alone, I'd say we're overdue for the third Un-set by about 4 years.  Add in 2013 was the year that Magic celebrated it's 20th anniversary, I'd say the best way to start off next year would be to announce by April that the next Un-set is on its way before the end of the year.  Call me a hopeless romantic, but I really love the idea of those silver bordered cards and full art lands.

Supplemental Product(s)
I'd like to see a supplemental product in 2014 along the lines of another Planechase set.  Why?  Judging by the popularity of the Game Day event of facing the Hydra for Theros and word of a similar activity for Born of the Gods, team style gameplay seems to be on WotC's mind lately.  It's not a stretch to think that Planechase will be due for an expansion as a result.  If not Planechase, then Archenemy or Vanguard will be highlighted this year (or a new, undisclosed format such as Hoard).

This one is so easy to predict that I decided to keep the Amazing Kreskin locked up in his room so I could do it myself.

Magic in 2013 saw unprecedented growth.  And if 2013 was good, 2014 will be even better.  Modern has been given a shot in the arm from Modern Masters (I missed the mark on this when I wrote about the inflated cost of it - but I still hold to the principal).  Legacy is alive thanks to continued efforts by SCG and other local play groups.  Add in the excitement we've seen in the RTR block and the wide acclaim of Theros, and you have a recipe for success.  This growth does have an important consideration though that WotC and TO's will need to keep in mind - Professional Players matter.  You don't have to like them, follow them on Twitter, or give them a second thought.  As a fan of Magic, you're allowed your opinion.   Truth is though, they dedicate an obscene amount of time to trying new decks, playtesting, and traveling.  It's not an easy life, and it's far from lucrative (not counting writing or endorsement deals, your average 5 people working at Wal-Mart likely make more in a year than any 5 Pros).  Pros matter though to the continued visibility of the game.  They matter to new fans, who need someone to look up to.  And they matter to events, where their rumored and/or guaranteed attendance surely draws in some players that may be on the fence about going themselves.  People do jump at the chance to meet LSV or get a playmat signed by Reid.  So while some may make fun of Pros, look to 2014 as a year WotC and TO's will spend more time figuring out how to make Pro Magic players happy.  If you love Magic as much as I do, put on your big boy pants and move away from worrying about what they are complaining about in a given week.  If they have a valid point (and most of the time they do), don't knock them.  I'm not saying don't test them by arguing them.  After all, the best way to find the holes in an argument is to poke at it.  I'm just suggesting that you step back and realize, as a participant in the process, that they often have a point that is worth consideration, even if we don't get it from our perspective.  They do a tremendous amount for the game as ambassadors and deserve if not your respect, then at least your tolerance.

Increased Visibility and Acceptance
There are two organizations in the community which now receive insufficient attention from fans - and I believe that 2014 will be the year that changes for the better.  The Lady Planeswalkers Society (Facebook page) believes in creating, "A welcoming, friendly environment for women to learn & play Magic: the Gathering!" Led by Tifa Robles, the LPS has had some growth during the past year, but I'm sure they'd like more. Tifa recently left her job at WotC with an intent to give greater attention to her love of promoting Magic through her group.  It's my hope that the LPS will aggressively develop new markets - every major metropolitan area should have their own chapter of the Society - as well as promote their message at major GPs.  The other group that is I think is on the cusp of a real watershed moment is Planeswalkers for Diversity.  Created by Trevor Murdock, their mission is as follows, "This group was created to facilitate networking and sharing of ideas between Magic Players who are interested in creating a safe environment for people to play the best game on earth regardless of their gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, age, or anything else that has nothing to do with it."  In a nutshell, I think that Trevor's vision is that Judges will never have to be called on to make Unsportsmanlike Conduct calls, but more than that Trevor sees Magic the Gathering as a chance to create a perfect microcosm of society - one where no one ever has to worry about who they are or what other people may think of them when they sit down to their match.

My Personal Magic 2014 Wishlist
  • Develop a winning record at Limited Draft
  • Meet great people - my shortlist includes Erin Campbell, any of the Judgecast Judges, LSV & more
  • Become an L1
  • Find a home as a writer
  • Eternal Weekend comes back to Philadelphia in the fall
  • Both of the LGS's I use have a banner year in Magic
  • Helene Bergeot doesn't ever leave WotC
  • Use more pictures in my articles - everyone likes card art and kids playing Magic
  • Design and complete a special project to help others learn Magic (I have SUCH the idea...)
  • That I get every [REDACTED] to [REDACTED] with me next year (Spoilers!)
  • Increase my reach via Social Media
  • Get to play hundreds of games with my friends and Jacob
  • And that everyone that plays Magic has an even better year than I hope to have.
With that, I leave you until 2014.

Magic Blessing
May you always have mana a plenty,
May all your spells resolve,
May you topdeck every card you want,
May you find a way to win against all odds,
And until we meet again friend,
May you play with intelligence, honesty, and grace.

~And Jim, wherever you are when you read this, thank you.


Reblogs, Retweets, & Mentions of all kinds are appreciated - as an independent writer I'm only read when others like what they see and share with their friends.