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Hasbro is a naturally cautious company, and one adverse to controversy. Their handling of Magic the Gathering — one of their flagship properties — very much reflects this. This has been a year of marketing caution turning into embarrassing overreactions, and PR blunders both by Wizards of the Coast and the card retailers that have the closest relationship to them who unfortunately still make up the bulk of high-profile Magic the Gathering coverage this past year. Here is a roundup of our coverage of these controversies and Wizards of the Coast’s reaction to them.

Star City Games Pulls Article due to Backlash

We started off the year in stupidity with the wholesale deletion of a Star City Games article at the behest of an angry mob.  It was an ugly saga, primarily because it showed once again that a loud and entitled minority of people has the power to censor the opinions of a Magic veteran, and gave them the power to override any chance of meaningful discussion. To quote my piece:

mtg safe space side 1“What happened here is clear, Star City Games and all the people who read the article and saw nothing wrong with it experienced a moment of sanity — they rightly agreed that “Respect in any community is earned, not given, and major impetus for me writing this article is because I believe women are every bit as capable of success in Magic as men are” as Jim Davis so aptly wrote. What they are apologizing for is the act of causing offense and are scared to death of anything damaging their product sales. Star City Games has no interest in whether the article was right or wrong, it has an interest in taking the easiest path the placate people into buying their wares and in doing so have dealt a blow to a the entire community. Even some of those who disagreed with the article said it should have at least stayed up; I think at the very least, having a dissenting opinion on contentious issues is of the utmost importance even if the editorial staff wanted to apologize for any offense caused and stick the piece full of disclaimers. Jim Davis saying “I believe that women should be treated equally to men” has become politically unacceptable. You are no longer allowed to speak your mind in a reasonable way. Even if I disagreed with Jim he still has the right to a dissenting opinion.” (Emphasis was in original article)

Months later, the act of promoting gender quotas and bowing to those eager to trash the community for the wrong reasons looks just as cowardly and ill thought-out. There is no other word for this but censorship — plain and ugly.

Coverage of Magic Products by the Big Card Retailers

This incident motivated me to flesh out some of my thoughts on the relationship between Wizards, the big card sellers and their coverage, and the Magic playing public.

Perhaps naively, I thought the Jim Davis/Star City Games affair would be the best jumping off point this year. It seems with each passing blunder this article gets more and more relevant:

“The lesson here is that putting your faith in the ability of retailers to impartially cover products they want to sell you is fundamentally flawed. These are businesses interested in selling as much product as humanly possible and you should never mistake them for you friends. You should never take what they say on blind faith. The opportunity for, and appearance of, impropriety should be greeted with the upmost suspicion, even outside of high-profile scandals. Whilst much of what they do is useful, it needs to be supplemented with truly impartial advice that plugs the gaping holes in what they don’t cover. As a consumer it is your job to protect yourself and it should be the job of the gaming press to help you make informed purchasing decisions. Magic the Gathering is no different from any other product or game in that regard.”

Zachary Jesse Receives Ban From Organized and Online Play

I didn’t provide editorial content on this event at the time because I felt Zach was receiving enough opinions from all over, you can find details in our news piece from the ever fair Pory.

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I did however reference the event in my “Why do people quit Magic the Gathering?” piece under a small sub-section that got more attention than the rest of the article combined despite that section only being a minor part of it.

“…the increasing pervasiveness of so called “safe-space” doctrine can make many players feel uneasy. I’ve had a few people come to me in private and express their apprehension at attending an event due to its polices or expressing a wish to boycott in the wake of incidents like the — frankly unfair — public shaming and banning of promising player Zach Jesse.

I think if Wizards and Hasbro wants to retain its hardcore audience who follow the competitive scene, and have sunk tens of thousands of dollars in some cases into the game over the years, they need to address their concerns without bowing to a loud minority. The rules for player exclusion need to be clarified and applied more fairly if people are going to feel comfortable attempting to turn pro. The atmosphere in the Magic community has been a little strained of late with the latest panics about identity politics, it’s causing many to quietly hang-up their decks. Players quietly quitting Magic the Gathering because they no longer feel welcome in a “safe space” is a sad state of affairs that I would like to see discontinued.”

The wounds are still raw around this event, as the banning of Zach Jesse is one of the things that quite rightly caused a spasm of disapproval towards Wizards of the Coast; protests which sadly died down and were walled off from the main MtG subreddit — presumably to contain the anger.

Having a person associated with Wizards of the Coast go out of their way to ruin a promising pro-player’s career is a disturbing event. Public shaming on Twitter has become the go-to approach to ruin the lives of anyone people take objection to. The fact Wizards rewarded these actions makes it all the bigger an injustice in my view.

Channel Fireball Buries article critical of Battle for Zendikar

There are days you just want to grab people like a wild man in the desert and shout “See! I wasn’t crazy! I was right all along!” My piece about the inherent conflict of interest in the biggest sellers of Magic the Gathering also providing the much of the coverage of Magic the Gathering suddenly came into sharp focus when an event happened that proved correct all my points about the potential for content manipulation for the sake of sales.

mtg safe space side 2On September 21st, 2015 Magic the Gathering Hall of Famer Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa published an article on Channel Fireball entitled“Everything That’s Wrong with Battle for Zendikar.” When a player with nine Pro Tour top eight finishes says he has reservations about the quality of a set, I sit up and listen. It’s a great article, and Paulo obviously has an excellent grasp on Magic mechanics and design so it’s well worth a read.

I was initially pleased with the refreshing change of pace from Channel Fireball. This is the kind of honest Magic coverage I want to see more of. Then the bullshit started.

First the date of the article’s publication was changed to September 16th, arguably in order to move it off the front page of Channel Fireball’s website. The site has since changed the date back to the correct date, but comments have been removed from and disabled on the article — plus it still hasn’t reappeared on Channel Fireball’s front page. There has been no official explanation other than the matter has now been “resolved,” whatever that means, and speculation is still rife about the circumstances that led to this occurrence.

Gee, who could have predicted that the large card retailers were not the best people to be providing the most high-profile coverage? I mean what kind of genius could have foreseen Channel Fireball and Star City Games simply favoured hyping card-sales above all else and that editorial integrity and basic honesty would be an afterthought? Sometimes I feel like Doom Paul, and I should walk around a Magic Grand Prix with a mortarboard telling people they “should have listened” and “you could have prevented this.”

The running theme in these events is that they took place in the aid of smoothing PR. As South Park’s razor sharp lampooning of the resurgent politically correct culture demonstrated the reasons behind this being painfully corporate and cold. If you think Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast acted like this out of some kind of ideological solidarity you’re sorely mistaken.

The corporate toy-masters over at Hasbro would instruct their employees to goose-step around the office in full SS regalia if they thought it would boost their profits by 5%. What is being celebrated by those who got Zach Jessie banned for a decade old conviction, or Star City games to delete an article is PR and marketing, is doing the easy thing rather than the right thing for the sake of not rocking the billion-dollar boat that is Magic the Gathering.

As a community we need to be able to call out bad decisions without squabbling over politics; a bad decision that tickles your ideological biases is still a bad decision. As has been demonstrated with events like the recent Judge suspensions, Wizards is perfectly capable of making blunders. Protecting the community from “undesirable” ideas and individuals is merely a fig-leaf to quell outcry. 2016 is sure to be another year where the increasingly belligerent Wizards of the Coast and their hype-men at the big card retailers find itself at odds with the Magic the Gathering community. When these events happen we need to be ready and willing to demonstrate that the Magic buying public, and those who frequent events who are really holding all the cards.

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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.