In July of 2004, Randy Buehler wrote an article on magicthegathering.com to assuage all of our fears that Poker would soon destroy the Pro Tour.
But no one was afraid.
This was the first sign to me, that the people at Wizards might just not be in-tune with the players.
Now by no means am I saying that they are out of touch with what is best for the game. Just the opposite, Ravnica is the best set in years and the rest of the block promises to keep up to the standard. Mark Rosewater even mentioned a desire to improve the inter-relation of the blocks, which was a bit of a sticking point for me. It looked for a while like each block was going to be completely incompatible with those around it. (Much in the way the game was originally conceived.) But with the recent push for the Pro Tour and the constant surprise that is evident each time a poll or board shows them the lack of interest in the Tour, it is increasingly clear that they may not know their players as well as they think.
Now this separation may stem from any number of things, but I think the biggest factor is the internal world of Wizards of the Coast. This is a place where you are surrounded all day every day by Magic. Not only by Magic, but Magic that will not be used by players for at least a year. It must be like dork Mecca out there…when water cooler talk can involve someone saying 1d20 and a joke about “Twiddling the Bone Flute” is double entendre (instead of simply rude)…you are not in a normal work environment. Many things contributing to the disconnect can fall under this larger heading of the “Wizards World.”
One of the first ones is the concept of Timmy, Johnny and Spike. For those who don’t know, these three names are WotC code for the three overall types of players that they design for. In a brief synopsis Timmy likes big creatures and/or effects; Johnny likes combos and other tricks; and Spike just likes to win. (More information can be found in a now classic MTG article by Mark Rosewater.) These three archetypes are excellent philosophies on playing and winning the game, especially when taking into account hybrids and variations on a theme. But, in my opinion really represent play styles, not players; this is a subtle difference, but an important one in understanding your audience. Now I am not going to turn this article into one of those “We should add Edgar and Neil to the list!” articles. Because it is not the archetypes that need a change, it is how they are viewed. (Though Matt Cavotta’s “Vorthos” seems to be a step in the right direction.) Wizards would say that the casual audience is represented in these three types, since Spike is usually seen as the Tournament player, but I really feel that all three types are too focused on the “win condition.” Now I know that this point is ripe for argument, but I think that decks and play styles are focused on the “win”, whereas players can be focused on many different things. Where does the player fit who plays simply to hang out, where the win is completely secondary? It is subtle distinctions like that which jump out at me when I think of these archetypes. When you are simply focused on winning, the game often ceases to be casual…(count that as my two cents in the ongoing “Defining Casual” debate.)
Another is the Pro Player cards. It seems to me like the only people who were excited about this were the Pro Players and those who follow the tour. What about the huge percentage of the playing population who had no desire for them? I will not ramble on about this point, as it has been discussed to death in many venues, but it really seemed like they had adopted an attitude of “You must care about the Pro Tour!” as opposed to “What would make you care about the Pro Tour?”
Which brings us to the concept of the Pro Tour itself. What do you think is the most common response to the statement “Magic has a Pro Tour”? Is it, “Really? That is awesome! How do I join?” or “Really? Are you kidding? *chuckle* Whatever floats your boat.” I truly feel that it is the latter, or a variation on it. (At least that is what my girlfriend said when I told her about it.) And I think that is the average response from both players and non-players. The Pro Tour was created in order to give the average Magic player something to aspire to. Now call me a cynic, but what about a Magic player aspiring to be a doctor? Or a lawyer? Maybe even a teacher or an architect? I think it is just this type of belief that has helped this skewed world view. Most see it as a game, they seem to consider it a way of life. They even have promotions talking about living the “Magic Lifestyle.” Lifestyle? Seriously? In Mark Rosewater’s column Decking the Hall, there is a section called “Why Should I Care?” talking about why the average player should care about the Pro Tour. He gives 10 specific points on why we should care. I don’t know about you, but those reasons really are not that compelling to me. Especially since only 2 seem to be legitimate boons to all players of the game, and one of those I think is questionable (He probably could have come up with Flashback and Splice on his own), the rest all show how much better the game has gotten for Tournament players. (And don’t get me started on the “Main stream legitimacy” comment.) Now please don’t think that I feel that there should be no Pro Tour. Anyone who wants to pursue that level of gaming, be my guest. Wizards just shouldn’t think that those that do are speaking for the majority of players.
Finally, I want to mention how I feel that the Pro Tour itself is just fueling the skewed view inside “Wizard’s World.” As it is often stated in articles by the Wizard’s staff, a large portion of the people who work on the game are former Pro Tour players. So, not only do the people working on the game sit and think about Magic all day every day, many of them used to play it professionally. No wonder there is such a push for the pro tour, not only do the pro players have the ear of the company, half of the ears themselves belong to pro players.
Now to an extent, you can’t really blame them. They are just in circumstances that make them distant from the regular player that sits at his kitchen table with his friends playing simply to be playing. He isn’t playing to test a deck; he isn’t thinking about how this effect could fit into a new set, he’s sitting there with his walls and Merfolk playing a game he loves to play. And he is not alone…maybe it’s time Wizard’s sent an emissary out to see what he might like. Odds are, it’s not much, but sometimes it’s nice to be asked.