Magic the Gathering Year in Review: Criticism Proof Windows, Controversy Safe Doors

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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 1What 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.

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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