Gavin Verhey wrote an article yesterday titled "Topical Blend #1: The Day Magic Died." The very next day, Magic actually died as if Gavin were a modern day Nostradamus. If you haven't seen, I am referring to this. The Cliff's Notes version is thus: the WPN (Wizards Play Network; local level organized play) will longer sanction FNM, Game Days, Prereleases, and Launch Parties for independent TOs, that is TOs who are not associated with a Brick and Mortar store. These TOs are encouraged to find a store to associate with in order to continue running these events.
There are a lot of problems held within this seemingly simple announcement. The easiest objection is when an independent TO does not have a nearby store that they can associate with. This is the story that is in particular being told to us by our friends in the non-US. The UK in particular seems like it is being hit hard, or at least they are voicing their objections loudly due to their lack of stores (FNMs overwhelmingly take place in pubs and other similar public locations).
Some indie TOs in the US have similar problems, especially those who run events for college gaming clubs. Some of these clubs have no store in town that they can associate with. Others may find that store too far away, as college students can sometimes be tied down to their campus due to a lack of motor transportation. Other indie TOs may know of a nearby store, but not want to associate them. In fact, the reason many of them took on the mantle and responsibility of being a TO for their gaming club was because their LGS (Local Gaming Store) was shady/terrible/etc.
I did a brief rundown of the stores that have been in my former hometown of Davis since the start of Magic. By my count there have been 7 in 16-17 years, and it's possible I am not remembering one or two. There are currently 2 active ones. So just doing a general average, LGSs have lasted 2-3 years. This sounds about right. Many such stores do not get past the first year due to poor planning and management. One of the two actives has been around since almost the beginning, but it is in fact, the worst of the bunch as they are currently suspended from running events due to selling Prerelease product early and then trying to circumvent their ban by sanctioning under a different TO.
You can understand if indie TOs would not want to associate and put their good name alongside such characters. And yet that is what the WPN change may force them to do. And then what happens when the terrible LGS closes after 2 years? With a college gaming club, there will frequently be decent continuity over generations as a former leader graduates and trains a successor. I've certified a couple of judges who were looking for training to become such successors. When an LGS location dies, playgroups will often fracture and disappear into the wind (this happened to me when the LGS we went to turned out to be--surprise--corrupt).
"Just start your own store" is not a viable option for most of these indie TOs, as they are college kids. But they have become a vital part of the community and arguably one of the reasons that Magic is so vibrant right now. Cutting them off at the knees with no notice was simply a dagger.
Speaking of daggers, as a judge, I feel that I've been daggered as well. Earlier in the year there was a program where certified judges earned promo cards by playing, judging, or organizing FNMs. The program even went one step further by giving additional promo cards to judges who brought FNM to new store locations that had not previously run tournaments (at the time judges were granted Core Level TO status independent of TOs). This was a great way to get the people who knew how to run tournaments in touch with the people who didn't. Now that the store TOs are properly trained and running their own FNMs, it's "thanks for all the fish but we don't need you anymore." Judges, like all other indie TOs, must associate themselves with an LGS in order to run FNM/Game Day/Prereleases/Launch Parties. It's like some twisted version of the Homestead Act where once you build up your farm, the government takes it back.
One final rant/warning: Prereleases for Mirrodin Besieged are going to suck. For the past two years, the WPN has already been struggling with getting their product allocation correct for Prereleases. Over and over the lament has been TOs having to turn players away because they didn't get enough product. What do you think is going to happen when some number of the Prereleases suddenly disappear off of the map because they were run by indie TOs. Do you really think that will be the magical time when they accurately predict the proper allocation? If you plan on going to a Prerelease for the next set, you should: 1) go to a big Regional Prerelease where they have no allocation limit (at least in theory; 2) preregister at your LGS; 3) get there early. Or a lot of you may not go to a Prerelease because you now have none nearby, or you had a good rapport with your indie TO, or you don't like your LGS. The WPN has been a flagship program for giving people more ways to enjoy Magic. Now there are less. Will attendance rise at the LGS locations as people flock to them for FNMs and such? Inevitably, but that should not be mistaken with growth. Overall, we will lose players because of this.
Finally, I guess I should address the concern that this change happened because of corrupt TOs who were pocketing the foils and selling them, reporting fraudulent tournaments, and other bad things. I'd seen/heard of this happening in California. Guess who was doing it? Hint: it wasn't indie TOs.