Magic: the Gathering Oath of the Gatewatch Leaks — A “Disproportionate Response”

Scrump follows up on the news of the recent banning of mulitple Magic the Gathering judges after the Gatewatch leaks 

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 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.

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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,

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.

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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.

The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent below.
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.
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