Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bye bye Miss Organizer Pie

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.


  1. While I have heard hearsay about indie TOs in my area pocketing foils and product, (like that FNM every week in Compton that takes place in a dark house behind a chain-link fence...) this move is like canceling Christmas because the kid down the street was naughty.

    While one could argue that something had to be done about a handful of renegade TOs, I feel that it was problem #5,500 on Wizards' to-do list.

    Now, they have a new problem #1.

    It won't affect my gaming experience too much, but for the thousands who don't get to play FNM anymore it must be the absolute worst. I hope they find another solution soon.

  2. As a store owner and a successful TO, I actually applaud this decision by Wizards. For too long have "independent" TOs (read shady) run events that leach players away from brick and mortar stores at best, or flood the secondary market with cheap promos at worst. Sure not every independent TO is shady, but even running events in competition with the LGS hurts everyone involved when the LGS are forced to close their doors. Being in the hobby business is tough enough w/o having illegitimate competition (what I mean by this is that they are not another B&M store--they didn't take the effort to raise capital and open a store).

    With regards to the Judge FNM promotion that you mentioned, I always felt, and let wizards know, that it was nothing more than a slap in the face to stores and TOs that have been running FNM for years with no rewards. Now all of a sudden a judge comes along and organizes an FNM and gets promo fetchlands for it. Where are the rewards for those who have been catering to 30+ magic players week in and week out for the past 8 or so years?

  3. Responding to Anon:

    Most Independent TO's run events outside of stores because either there are no stores physically close enough, or the store/s close enough are not well run or provide a poor atmosphere for gaming. If you own a Brick and Mortar store and are hurting because of competition from a local Magic TO I would suggest you try discussing it with him/her. Offer them some kind of incentive to run events in your store. If they refuse the problem is more than likely with your store, either the way it is run or the clientele.

  4. Responding to the comments above - my playgroup currently lives in a large metropolitan area - the immediate city is approximately 700,000 people. In this entire city there is one LGS with a maximum capacity of 30-odd people for events.

    In comparison, our "indie" draft group alone has a registry of 180 people and we frequently get 30 people a week to show up without advertising or making a real effort. And we're not in it for any profit, we're there to play. (Though our venue of course likes us to buy food and beer.)

    This isn't a case of competition with the LGS - the LGS isn't pushing the product in a serious way - (no pre-order sales, no special events, no unique events, no leagues, no 1K's, no casual events, poor prize support) It's just not his priority. The guy even has space for more people but refuses to manage his inventory appropriately - you see people standing for their tournaments and playing on cardboard set over comic boxes.

    But he's got a storefront and has been running tournaments for a while, so we've got to cater to his whims?

    Needless to say everyone leaves the city for any real events - there are several really solid LGS' nearby - but for those with limited travel opportunities (college students and well, city bound individuals) the options are more limited - thus the popularity of the indie group.

    We've looked at running a competing storefront but the cost of entry is ridiculously high, as property values are ridiculous and rent would blow your mind.