It’s a strange new Magic world we are living in.
The introduction of the Magic Pro League (MPL) — featuring 32 of the top finishers from last year — has kickstarted wave after wave of change for the Magic scene in what seems like no time at all.
I’m happy for every single one of them. There’s been a lot said over the past while about how the selection process for the league was carried out. But each of those players have earned the level-up in their careers and it’s unfair to take that away from them.
And of course, the belle of the ball of this whole new Pro Magic direction is MTG Arena. The new digital platform, with its awesome graphics, cheap startup cost and ease of use that is going to be the main platform for the MPL. It’s on Arena that they’ve started to hoist up their streamers and best players as an avenue to grow the game past anything we’ve ever seen before.
It feels like in a mere months time, the way fans and players alike interact with the game has been completely turned on its head. You log on to Twitch at any time and all of a sudden the best players in the world are streaming every single day.
That said, everything comes at a cost.
Grand Prix were once the flagship events for open-enrollment players to compete to become professionals. The vessel to the Pro Tour dream if you will. But, it seems like GPs may go the way of the Dodo Bird and 2019 might be their last time to shine. Wizards has shown us with the MPL that they may want less people in their professional circuits to shine a brighter light on a select few.
Speaking for myself and the dinosaur I claim to be I’m going to miss the social side of Grand Prix the most. The selection process for these exclusive events, like the $1 million Mythic Invitational on Arena next month has many of us professionals in the just-under-top -32 bracket feeling like we just got the most crushing ninth place of our careers. Hopefully performance-based players will also have an outlet when more information is unveiled, but honestly, I’m skeptical that that’s what it’s about anymore.
Now I know many protractors have argued that we — pro players that are thoroughly enmeshed in the game already — are not their target demographic. That the business world need only follow the money as any capitalist system should. And that money is in new players, Twitch viewers and a casual player-base. I just feel like this is similar to when a huge corporation makes thousands of layoffs just to save a few dollars. Is the net gain really worth it? Are we selling out our loyal players, like myself of 26 years in the game?
Anyway, I’m not here to complain all day, you have the entire internet for that. Let’s talk about what you need to do to make it in this brave new world. We don’t actually know how we can work to replace the top 32 members of the MPL yet in coming years. In typical WotC fashion they seem to be figuring out on the fly. So, the easy way to do it and get hugely rewarded is to establish followers. From Pro Tour invites to free Beta drafts, WotC has been rewarding the people who have been able to build a following. And how can you do that? Stream, stream, create content, win tournaments, create content and stream some more.
Players like Ali Aintrazi who brew up fun decks, stream regularly, and are entertaining personalities to watch have a great starting point in this new world. Not only is it a fun experience for the followers, but he does well and the decks he builds are usually competitive. Creating a niche for yourself is a guaranteed way to help grow your name in the game. Like my fellow Team FaceToFaceGames.com teammate and good friend Shaheen Soorani has done for himself by playing Esper in virtually every format.
Now more than ever you’re going to be challenged to interact with every axis of the game. It’s no longer only about being a master at the table. The entire community is your play space, and you need to master it all. I have already integrated this advice myself by being more active on Twitter. I hadn’t sent a single tweet until a year or two ago when it was an assignment from a previous sponsor and boy did I feel like I was my father trying to send out an email.
For me personally I still have to balance my everyday life in. I have a mental health counseling practice that I maintain Monday through Friday every week. I have 20 rental units that require management and upkeep. Then there’s plenty of new stuff in my life that is sure to take up even more time. On June 27th I’ll be a dad for the first time ever! Emma Elizabeth Kassis will transform my life. I really can’t say for sure what my life will look like or how much free time I’ll really have until she’s here. I know many other pros have managed to balance children with the Magic life, so I am hoping I can continue to advance my career as well. But with all this uncertainty, it’s still remains unclear to me whether that will be possible.
The reality here is that pro Magic players are trying to plan ahead just like anyone else. Figure out where money is coming in, which avenues maximize happiness and all of those other big questions.
Recently I hit a personal snag, a pretty serious health problem. It all started with a small back pain. And then an X-Ray led to noticing a giant tumor, 5-Inches in size on top of my heart. Within a week or two I was already having open-heart surgery to remove it as soon as possible. This has already caused me to miss a team open, GP Toronto, and GP Memphis. I’m barely able to make it to the Mythic Championships in Cleveland and only because I have the assistance of some great teammates and friends.
Through all this I feel like I gained additional perspective on life and what’s important, but I also found that more than anything I wanted to return to the grind as well. When Wizards eventually reveals more information about what it might take to be a pony in their new show, I will be reevaluating streaming, traveling and whatever else the Magic of the future entails. For now though it’s still “operation wait and see.”
I still want to play Magic, that I know.