I haven't written about Magic the Gathering in years, but with a recent cut to the appearance fees of pro players, I got motivated to write. This article won't have much to do with escape rooms, but I don't know where to post this, so I'm posting it here! There have been good essays about the cuts from Kibler, Finkel and others, but I wanted to give my .02 as someone who has worked in a trading card game company as well as used to pay my bills playing MtG.
Let me take you back to 1994. I was a young dude going to university but not enjoying it. I didn't know what to do with my life but I knew that college wasn't the answer and it sure as hell wasn't going to work 9-5 for the man. There was this one thing that I was pretty good at and enjoying the hell out of and that was Magic the Gathering. At the time however, it was nothing more than a few local tournaments and the budding community in southern California. That all changed though, when a man named Skaff Elias thought up this wonderful thing called the pro tour.
Getting to paid to play Magic. Wow! What a concept! When I finished 3rd in Dallas a few short year laters, that 9k check was something sweet. I thought it would last forever. It really felt like a dream come true. I had money, no job, a wonderful girlfriend who I met playing Magic. I mean what could be better? It truly changed my life. Fast forward years later and the benefits of the pro tour and exposure to gaming can still be felt. I have worked as a game designer and now escape room owner. I have played poker for a living on the very foundations that Magic taught me.
It was until today however, that I realized something. Magic, and by extension WoTC, got more from me then I got from them.
Now, you might be thinking, that sounds pretty arrogant Brian. I've never even heard of your ass. Well that means you are under 35 so go back to snapchatting and filming music concerts with your iPhone. But you are right, I am arrogant. Still though. Hear me out.
In the early days of Magic, there was quite the contest for the soul of the game. Would it be something dorky like the way people felt about D&D? Or would it be something else, something on ESPN2 and MTV? The stars of the game would be Magic's public face and would go a long way to establishing the brand. Those early people like Mark Justice, Hammer, Mike Long, Chris Pikula and others did a lot to make Magic something more than just playing cards. They established a community, a community that wasn't just the pro tour. It wasn't even just the qualifiers. It was a community of those who enjoyed the game and wanted it to be something they could be a part of even when they were at home alone, away from their friends or gaming spots.
They got to hate Mike Long or Mark Justice. They got to root for the Deadguys, or PCL, or even us. They got to dream of coming to the pro tour and losing 50 bucks in a money draft on the floor of the Hilton lobby at 5:30 in the morning. They followed the exploits of the best players and the popularity of the game soared. That drama played out on the pro tour and brought a type of celebrity to some of those involved, but it also brought much needed sexiness to something that could have boring. Can you imagine a sport without its stars?
Ok, you still aren't sold. Isn't Magic fun because it just is? The endless combinations. Coming up with your own decks. Mana screwing your best friend in both games of the final.
Ok sure, all that stuff is great. But why did I stop playing? When I got to the tournament, and there was no Truc Bui to hang out with, no Chris Pikula to make fun of me for missing day 2, no Gab Tsang to team up with, no Casey McCarrel to cheat against me in a money draft; that was when I realized that I didn't want to be there either. And I'm sure that there was someone somewhere who didn't want to play because there wasn't a Brian Hacker around or to read articles by. I suspect it was Svend Geertsen because I wasn't there to call him Eurojank, but I digress.
It's all connected. All those good times, all that fun wasn't so fun anymore. At least it wasn't until Dave Williams pulled me out of retirement nearly a decade later to play $400 dollar money drafts that ended with Noah Boeken trying to put together a squad to run a $50k 3 on 3 versus a "massive whale, a real fish.", AKA a very well-known poker player. Anyway, I digress.
Actually it didn't stop there though. A few years later Gab Tsang and I were in Toronto completely randomly during a Grand Prix weekend and we rolled out like Michael and Scottie doing 2 on 2s, except it was Michael and Scottie weighing 350 pounds with bad knees. I played Magic for Gab. I played Magic for Truc. I played Magic for Sigurd and Igor.
They say poker is a people game with cards. I don't know if that's true for poker, but it's damn true for Magic. And I miss a lot of those people.
The moral of the story is this. Most of the time a cut or two here or there won't impact much. It won't stop the next Jon Finkel. It won't stop the next Kai Budde. It won't stop the next Japanese dude whose name I don't know who will smash me like it's 2009. And it probably won't stop the next Brian Hacker.
But maybe it will. And when it does, it might take a whole lot of people with it. And they will take a whole lot of people with them. And so on. And so forth.
So in the immortal words of Teddy KGB.
Pay that man. Pay that man his money.