Wizards of the Coast is pretty good at the the whole Magic thing.
Blablabla more preamble. How about we ditch the intro and get on with it, shall we?
SIX THINGS WOTC WOULD LIKE YOU TO FORGET
Pro Tour LA 98 is the one Pro Tour that I qualified for. I could not go, so my spot passed down to another (which was the rule back then Down Under). PTLA98 was Tempest Block Constructed, which is fine, until you realise that Stronghold (the first expansion) had not yet been released. So you had to make a constructed deck with a single 300-card set.
Scalding Tongs won that day. I’m certain that WotC would not want you to know that.
JUDGES COULD BAN CARDS AND SETS
Until officially disallowed by the rules changes in the 1997-1998 season, judges had the ability to ban cards and sets from tournaments. It wasn’t that they were specifically allowed to do this, but since the rules didn’t explicitly state that they weren’t, many did, and this became part of accepted tournament practice.
This was a symptom of a larger issue with the DCI (WotC’s Organised Play arm for many years) in that they often made mistakes and let players and judges run rampant. Nowadays things are run much better (though if you get me drunk*, I will tell you what I think is wrong with the judge program.)
*you do not have to get me drunk.
Let’s get on with the actual list then...
EVERYTHING BEFORE TEMPEST
I mentioned this in an earlier article, but Magic in the olden days just wasn’t good. Sure, we could look at Moxes and Dual Lands, but it’s tough to find a card that isn’t overpowered, or utter drek.
Tempest was the first block designed with the original block model in mind (1 large and 2 small expansions) Mirage had to be split up, and pro players at the time agree that Mirage just wasn’t a good Limited format. Mirage, however, enabled the design and development teams to get Tempest right, and all in all, it was a pretty cool block.
You can definitely go through the original expansion lineup in order and see the evolution of the game, but Alpha to Alliances features many cringeworthy additions to the Magic canon and the powers that WotC would probably prefer that you don’t take a close look in the same way that the medical industry wouldn’t want you looking too close at medical instruments from the 1870s.
Back in the dark times, Magic’s rules and judge program were both a maelstrom of inconsistency. Nowadays if a judge was involved in deciding a high-profile match, the internet would roast them alive.
Let me tell you about David Mills.
Pro Tour LA 97. David makes the finals vs Tommi Hovi. The format was Rochester Draft (Mirage Block). After becoming excited at drawing the card that would win him the game, David plays Shallow Grave without first tapping his lands.
You know...that thing that’s totally legal to do now.
In tournaments, judges have what is called an Upgrade Path. It still exists today, but back then it was far more draconian. An infraction that was worth a warning at first would get higher penalties as a player continued. David had received (I believe) two warnings and a game loss for the same thing earlier in the day. He was advised that the next time would probably lead to a disqualification.
David was immediately disqualified without prize (meaning a loss of second place, worth $16,000 in 1997 dollars, about $28,000 today). The result literally caused a riot (which in Magic 1997 terms meant a handful of very upset and talkative nerds storming the stage and starting sentences with “Actually…”).
Upon further reflection, WotC decided to award David second prize after all, but would not reverse the DQ.
This isn’t the first time the DCI would get a black eye, and it wouldn’t be the last, and even though they were totally justified in doing so, WotC would prefer you not remember the time they kicked a teenage kid out of a Pro Tour for doing something that they later decided wasn’t worth making against the rules.
While the most popular draft format has always remained Booster Draft, Rochester was the preferred format for major events. Here’s how you Rochester:
Each player has three packs. The player in position 1 opens a pack, lays out the cards face-up in a grid. After a 1-minute review period, that player makes his first pick. The player to his left chooses second and so forth until we get to position 8. Position 8 makes two picks, and then the draft goes in the opposite direction until each player has picked twice, with the exception of the first player who got first pick and no other.
Repeat this 23 more times. Then die a little.
Rochester Draft has long been abandoned once the commonfolk rose up against it. It excluded players with vision problems (you couldn’t touch the cards at all before drafting), and it punished players for not being intimately familiar with cards by sight. Judges also hated it since it took over an hour.
Leaving behind an exclusionary format was a good idea, and probably caused some growth in tournament interest.
Also Rochester NY smells weird. (Go ahead and argue…)
RICHARD GARFIELD ISN'T VERY GOOD AT MAGIC
Dr Richard Garfield is one of the most successful game designers in the world. Not just because of Magic either. He has had multiple successful designs published. RoboRally, King of Tokyo/NY, SolForge, as well as many of WotC’s other card games. In an industry where most designers can’t get a second game off the ground, Richard Garfield has had several. He’s good at what he does.
However, there’s a pervasive illusion that a designer is automatically good at their own creation. While there is some truth to that, a designer usually can’t hold his own against, say, a world champion.
Enter Jon Finkel, World Champion and Hall-of-Fame player. WotC had a marketing idea.
Let’s make the champ play the creator! There’s no way this could be a bad idea, right?
WotC published the Deckmaster tin in 2001, with an Ice Age/Alliances deck designed by each man (conforming to rarity rules). Garfield built an ok deck, but in the subsequent match, had his ass handed to him by the then current poster boy for pro magic.
THOSE MAGIC TV COMMERCIALS
There was a time when Magic made a real effort to hit the mainstream. They’ve since settled into the niche (helped by the fact that nerd culture has grown somewhat mainstream), but they did have several cringeworthy forays into TV advertising.
The worst, here, puts down video games and other fun nerd stuff to try and entice people with cardboard rectangles. (Portal, no less). All you need is a Brain, a Deck, and a Friend. A laughable slogan that was parodied by WotC themselves as flavour text in their Netrunner game not long after.
They redeemed themselves a little with “Send in Bob from Accounting”, but this didn’t see the spike in Magic sales that they wanted, and the desire for a Magic Superbowl spot quickly waned.
The "We're Basically Assholes" spot didn't help much.
THEY DIDN'T INVENT THE MOST POPULAR FORMAT
Constructed made Magic the game that it is today, but Limited made it profitable. There’s no denying that the lull between releases is made better by Limited formats (draft and sealed). However, while it’s been claimed that the Mirage design team invented the booster draft, the very concept of a limited card pool wasn’t invented by Wizards of the Coast.
I will say that, upon learning what bored college students were doing with starter decks, WotC took that and ran with it. Recognising the power and value of such a format was a masterstroke, especially when most companies even now won’t take an idea that wasn’t internally generated (partially for hubris, and partially because lawyers are dumb).
In a world where the original Magic team were considered innovators and rockstars, WotC would probably enjoy you not knowing that they didn’t invent their most popular tournament format.
There's my look at some of the things that Wizards wouldn't like you to remember (or know about). I applied for a job there last month. Can't imagine why I didn't get it.