Last week, WotC dropped a big piece of news that professional Magic as we know it will be disbanded and reimagined. The MPL has been renewed for a final season, but it won’t continue beyond that.
If I’m perfectly honest, I couldn’t possibly have cared any less about the MPL as Magic entertainment. I never bothered to learn what it was, how it worked or even who was competing because it was never something I had any interest in watching.
I’ll be clear about my preference – I don’t particularly like or enjoy watching or playing online Magic. It doesn’t interest me and today’s article comes from that place of bias (so, keep that in mind).
I don’t think my general sense of apathy or disinterest about the MPL is particularly unique, which is likely a big part of why it’s being scrapped going forward. We don’t really have a clear indication of what competitive paper Magic will look like in the future, but in today’s article I’m going to lay out the four things I’m most hoping to see reemerge once conditions are safe.
The future of competitive paper Magic feels like a mystery box…
With that said, today I’d like to discuss some of the things I’m most hoping to see once large scale, IRL, paper events return to a post-pandemic world.
If a year and a half of mono-online Magic and zero cardboard Magic has taught me anything, it’s that I have very little interest in pursuing online Magic play once IRL events return.
I’ve long said that Magic is the greatest card game ever created and one of the most mediocre video games to play or watch. If the pandemic has taught me anything about what I really think and feel about Magic as a game, it’s that for me the true value of Magic is “The Gathering,” together with other players and playing cards. I miss it and continue to look forward to the time when we’ll be able to get together and shuffle up once again.
I know I’m hammering hard on the “I just want to play paper Magic and not online,” but I see a ton of value in paper Magic as an experience that I just don’t see with online play. The friendships, the travel and the actual experience of being somewhere playing a game with actual people just feels so important to me after a prolonged period of social distancing and isolation.
With all these points noted, here’s my four wants in a post-pro Magic world.
Perhaps the element of cardboard play I most hope WotC and the DCI embrace in a post-pandemic world is the concept of playing locally and expanding out regionally into larger events.
I loved events like States and Regionals that brought all of the players in my area together to battle for glory. I’d love to see that type of a structure (funneling into a National Championship) return, but to have it matter in a way that it didn’t previously.
Make State or Regional Championships feel like they matter with attractive prize support and invites to a National Championship.
WotC has already said that it will support gatherings for Commander and MagicFest events, but I’d love to see a States event with enough prestige that players don’t skip it to play Grand Prix.
I said I had no interest in watching the MPL, but you know what I would actually like to watch? You guessed it! A paper Magic World Championship.
I’d love to see a paper event, once a year, that draws the most talented players from all across the world to compete for the title of cardboard World Champion. Being able to see a weeklong super gathering in someplace like Las Vegas with a World Championship as a focal point would be awesome.
I’d love to see the World Championship be an event that’s open to the public to play, but where Top 8s in Grand Prix, Command Fest, States or Nationals would exempt players from having to play “Day 1.” So, essentially Day 1 would be an open “play in” satellite-style of event with the “qualified” players joining in later with tie breakers resetting when the event merges.
- Day 1: Open to public, eight rounds and all players with five wins advance.
- Day 2: Tiebreakers reset, players with a Grand Prix or State/Regional Top 8 join event, eight rounds and players with five wins advance.
- Day 3: Tiebreakers reset, Grand Prix and State/Regional Champions join the event, National Top 8 competitors join the event and the main event is officially underway with all competitors.
I love the idea that anybody could show up with a deck, a dream and have a shot. That’s sort of at the heart of what playing Magic is all about as an experience: on any given day, anybody has a shot at making a run and having the tournament of a lifetime. I also think that is what the MPL sorely lacks as a viewing experience; it’s so disconnected from the experience of the vast majority of players that it’s completely unrelatable and alien.
My next hope for the future of Magic is that WotC reinvests in casual and competitive Magic at LGS-level events.
I’m excited for the Grand Prix and CommandFests to return, but even more so I’m excited to get back to my favorite LGS and play cards with friends. LGSs have had a rough go of it during the pandemic but they’re important spaces in our local communities where gamers are able to get together and socialize.
Not all paper players have the funds, time, or resources to jet-set around the country and play Grand Prix and I’d like to see some installment of play at the local level that feels fun and exciting as well. I’d love to see some WotC-sponsored local leagues that encourage players to come out to the LGS for casual or competitive play at the local level with sweet promos and incentives.
Perhaps Friday Night Magic could make a return as something that feels a little more razzle-dazzle at the local level to encourage people to get out to the LGS and game.
The longer I play Magic, the more I enjoy the nuance of playing Draft and Sealed. I like not having to build a deck ahead of time and the experience of showing up, cracking some packs and constructing a deck with the cards I open or get passed.
I also tend to find that Limited events tend to be more inclusive in regards to who can play and how it levels the playing field. I’d really like to see more Limited events being supported at the local, regional and Grand Prix levels of paper tournament play.
I see the direction that WotC is pushing for cardboard play tends to be very Commander-centric (which is great! Commander is an outstanding play experience) but it’s a fairly expensive format to collect and play. Building decks for most formats tends to be fairly expensive and it would be great to see more Limited brought into the tournament mix to give more players the opportunity to enjoy the game. I personally love playing Limited and I think giving Draft and Sealed more tournament support is a great way to include more players.
After laying out my thoughts about “what I want” from paper Magic, a couple of things have become more clear to me.
- The thing I truly value about playing Magic is the experience of coming together with other gamers, hanging out and sharing an experience.
- I don’t get that experience from playing online.
The “experience” of playing Magic is important both on the local and larger levels. I love hanging out with some friends at FNM and doing a Cube Draft after. I also love getting in the car with some friends and spending a weekend at a Grand Prix. I’m excited to do both again soon and I hope both outlets of play have exciting new support from WotC in the future.
I also recognize that I’d love to watch coverage of paper Magic when it returns. I’ve found myself rewatching a lot of old matches and it’s just so much fun to watch feature matches. In particular, I’d love to see some new form of a World Championship for IRL Magic – preferably in a format where anybody can register with a deck and a dream.
While I’m sad to see the Pro Tour and professional Magic go, what I believe was important about that institution was that it represented the hope that someday, a player could make it onto that stage. I don’t think the majority of players set out thinking “I want to make a career out of being a professional Magic player,” but rather they want the opportunity to make it onto that stage – even just one time to say they did it!
For most, I don’t think the dream was ever to be a professional Magic player, but rather just to be there and be a part of it. It’s a huge draw to mingle with the players we’ve read about in articles and coverage and have a chance to duel against them. Again, it all comes back to “the Gathering” – the dream is to be a part of “the Gathering” and for the chance to play a big match on a big stage. The dream for most (myself included) was always just to be there, to take a shot and to share an experience with others who love shuffling up as much as I do.