Disproportionate header

Read the news about this here.

I’ve large­ly been steer­ing clear of the re­cent (Spoiler Warning for link) high‐profile leaks that oc­curred with Magic: The Gathering Oath of the Gatewatch most­ly be­cause the Mythics and the new super‐double‐dog‐ultra‐Mythics we are see­ing in the form of the Expeditions don’t re­al­ly tell us much about what the play en­vi­ron­ment will be like. The bulk of what you will see in Limited and across con­struct­ed for­mats will be made up of the Commons, Uncommons and Rares. Unless there is a big piece of news that al­ters how the rules, print­ing, or for­mat of the game plays, I will cov­er a new set when it is com­plete­ly spoiled or re­leased, and I can get a co­her­ent feel for it as a whole.

Oft times I’m not a fan of adding “-gate” to the end of every event, but per­haps we should be call­ing this “LeakGate,” since the re­ac­tion to the leaks is far more news­wor­thy and in­ter­est­ing than the leaks them­selves of cards that will most­ly not even be in Standard (for my opin­ion of the prac­tice of print­ing ex­pe­di­tions see my “Fetch Lottery” ar­ti­cle.)

dis side 1First, we saw Wizards of the Coast (WotC) throw them­selves what can only be de­scribed as a pity par­ty with the re­lease of “Why Leaks Hurt” by Trick Jarrett, Global Content and Community Manager for Magic: The Gathering. I don’t ob­ject to his broad point, leaks do neg­a­tive­ly af­fect com­pa­nies and can some­times scrap a lot of hard work, but I do ob­ject to the over­ly dra­mat­ic and wal­low­ing tone of its con­tent. WotC aren’t some mom and pop op­er­a­tion; this won’t stop them turn­ing a prof­it on the set when it is re­leased. Watching a com­pa­ny that has a mo­nop­oly on a bil­lion dol­lar prod­uct be so melo­dra­mat­ic and ex­pect a fur­ther out­pour­ing of sym­pa­thy is undig­ni­fied.

Find the source of the leak, cut them out of the loop and move on. Anything else is cry­ing over spilled milk. It’s fine to feel ag­griev­ed by leaks, but the cor­rect re­sponse is to qui­et­ly plug the leaks and get on with the show. We saw this in ac­tion ear­li­er this year with Kotaku be­ing cut out of the loop by Bethesda and Ubisoft; they didn’t give a pub­lic show of force or jump to an emo­tion­al re­sponse. They just stopped do­ing busi­ness with the leak­er.

With the newest de­vel­op­ment, WotC at first seemed to have done just that. Two lev­el 3 judges who were di­rect­ly re­spon­si­ble for the leak of the cards had been giv­en two‐year sus­pen­sion. Wizards’s also banned a large chunk of judges from the Southwest US re­gion — some of them also high lev­el — that were mere­ly in the Facebook group these spoil­ers orig­i­nat­ed from. This in­cludes one of those who blew the whis­tle and brought these ac­tions to the at­ten­tion of Wizards of the Coast.

This in turn caused an­oth­er lev­el 3, James Bennett, to sus­pend his JudgeApps ser­vice and the judge re­sources at Magicjudges.org in protest to a move he says he is sure will re­sult in his own sus­pen­sion. The in­fer­ence from play­ers is that Wizards is adopt­ing a “scorched earth” ap­proach and ban­ning any judges even as­so­ci­at­ed with the two leak­ers. I’m para­pras­ing events it here, but you can read the full sto­ry — along with Wizard’s state­ments — in our news piece writ­ten by the ever dili­gent Poryguy.

Here’s the prob­lem: judges are the un­paid labour that keeps Magic: The Gathering run­ning. You can’t have a com­pet­i­tive event with­out them. Hell, even large stores can’t run Friday Night Magic events with­out them. They are the grease that keeps the cogs of the ma­chine turn­ing and they are one of the most over­looked but valu­able com­po­nents of this game. Competitive play is one of the main draws of Magic: The Gathering. It has a big­ger top‐level com­pet­i­tive scene than any oth­er col­lec­table card game out there. Without judges, Grand Prix Magic, Regional Events, Pro Tour Qualifiers, the Pro Tour –- hell any sanc­tioned event above store lev­el — goes away overnight, Poof! And that bil­lion dol­lar prop­er­ty Hasbro owns gets a lot less valu­able.

dis insert 1

The glee­ful talk on so­cial me­dia, of a “dis­pro­por­tion­ate re­sponse” on the part of WotC does not gel with their of­fi­cial state­ments. Their claim of “Theft of Intellectual Property” is also a gross ex­ag­ger­a­tion. Violating con­fi­den­tial­ly? Absolutely. Breach of the trust placed in them by the DCI? Very much so. But Magic cards are phys­i­cal ob­jects; this isn’t like the leak of a film or an al­bum, this is no way vi­o­lates their IP. The state­ment is­sued is us­ing strong words to shore up what is a very vague se­quence of events. If Wizards of the Coast is go­ing to re­gain the trust of the com­mu­ni­ty, and es­pe­cial­ly of the army vol­un­teers who run events, then they are go­ing to have to of­fer more clear ev­i­dence of wrong­do­ing.

There are also a num­ber of unan­swered ques­tions that stem from Wizard’s side of the sto­ry:

  • If this stems from “leaks re­lat­ed to mul­ti­ple card‐sets over a pe­ri­od of time” then what were these leaks? I’m un­aware of any leaks in the past few years un­less some­one wants to cor­rect me.
  • If there have been leaks in re­cent years then why had Wizards not re­spond­ed be­fore now?
  • Has Wizards been pre­tend­ing re­cent small­er leaks are spoil­ers to avoid em­bar­rass­ment?
  • How can we dis­tin­guish be­tween what is vi­ral mar­ket­ing and what is a leak?

If Wizards is gen­uine­ly wor­ried about this par­tic­u­lar Facebook group, or these spe­cif­ic judges, and has no di­rect ev­i­dence of them dis­sem­i­nat­ing leaks, per­haps a more pro­por­tion­ate re­sponse would have been to sus­pend their ac­cess to un­spoiled cards? I know if I was test­ing a com­mu­ni­ty, I’d throw a few fake spoil­ers their way and see if any of it end­ed up in the pub­lic do­main. If they’ve al­ready iden­ti­fied and ef­fec­tive­ly banned the two peo­ple who were ac­tive in the leak­ing of in­for­ma­tion then why ex­tend that to the Facebook group? What is de­sir­able about a “Disproportionate Response” that might well shut down or hin­der events?

Anyone who is even mod­er­ate­ly ac­tive in on­line com­mu­ni­ties dis­cussing Magic will, like­ly mul­ti­ple times per year, see spoil­ers of up­com­ing prod­ucts whose prove­nance can­not be read­i­ly de­ter­mined from the in­for­ma­tion avail­able…” – James Bennett, Magicjudges.org

This is­sue is of great con­cern and blows Wizard’s mar­ket­ing po­si­tion out of the wa­ter. We have this slow drip‐feed of spoil­ers, some of them com­ing in un­ex­pect­ed or ec­cen­tric forms, to gen­er­ate hype and keep peo­ple in­ter­est­ed. If those in­volved in the Magic com­mu­ni­ty are para­noid of shar­ing then vi­ral mar­ket­ing goes right out of the win­dow. We can’t live in a com­mu­ni­ty where every­one is con­stant­ly in­form­ing on every­one else for fear of the ar­bi­trary wrath of Wizards of the Coast, es­pe­cial­ly when those peo­ple are the vol­un­teer judges who keep the game run­ning.

Dis insert 3

I’ll say it again. Billion dol­lar fran­chise. BILLION. That’s nine ze­ros folks. This comes across as the rich mill own­er beat­ing the street urchin for not shin­ing his shoes prop­er­ly to me. The re­sponse feels more like an act of re­venge for the leak, pun­ish­ing every­one even ad­ja­cent to it, and en­force­ment of the rules seems to be be­ing made up as it goes along. The re­ac­tion is less fix­ing a leaky ship and more just blow­ing up the whole boat. The mes­sage to judges is clear: we don’t val­ue the time you in­put to prop this game up if WotC de­cides to put you un­der the sword.

I have a hope that we as the Magic com­mu­ni­ty, and es­pe­cial­ly fel­low judges, can make a “Disproportionate Response” of our own that is able to gen­er­ate some ac­count­abil­i­ty with­in Wizards, but I won’t hold my breath. This re­minds me of an­oth­er ar­bi­trary ban­ning, that of Zach Jesse, which saw a wiz­ards con­trib­u­tor pub­licly shame and at­tack a play­er for decades old of­fences, which ef­fec­tive­ly end­ed his play­ing ca­reer for good.

Judges may make the rules of Magic more clear, but the rules of the DCI seem as un­fath­omable as ever. Their mo­tives range from want­i­ng good PR, in the case of Jesse, to seem­ing­ly act­ing as en­forcers out of a de­sire for re­venge on the part of a slight­ed Wizards of the Coast.

I doubt the judges sus­pend­ed are go­ing to be ded­i­cat­ing their free time to this game af­ter this (I wouldn’t) and the bad taste this leaves may put oth­ers off from do­ing the same. Competitive Magic just got that much less friend­ly and hard­er to or­ga­nize, and al­most im­pos­si­ble in the case of the Southwest US for the next three months.

Leaks hurt, but they don’t hurt half as much as hav­ing no one to run your com­pet­i­tive events.

Magic the Gathering Year in Review: Criticism Proof Windows, Controversy Safe Doors
Multiple Magic: The Gathering judges to re­ceive sus­pen­sions over their al­leged in­volve­ment in re­cent set leaks
The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent be­low.
John Sweeney
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in en­gi­neer­ing. He writes long‐form ed­i­to­r­i­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games me­dia and in­ter­net cul­ture. He also does the oc­ca­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly col­umn about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our in­ter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven me­dia and sus­pi­cious of un­ac­cou­table au­thor­i­ty but al­ways hope­ful for change.