HAY GUISE, I THINK I GET THIS SPORTS THING NOW. Or at least some approximation of it. Today’s 9-5 sped past as I was glued to the Magic the Gathering Twitch stream of Pro Tour Aether Revolt. I understand that for many of you, most of those were just words devoid of meaning. Or context, for that matter. Twitch is a streaming service primarily known for its use in streaming live game events. People may show a feed of a video game they’re currently playing, for instance. In this case, Wizards of the Coast (the company who makes Magic the Gathering (also owned by Hasbro (because the Pokémon Trading Card Game was so profitable that Hasbro wanted a piece of that sweet, sweet, CCG market (coincidentally they also now own Dungeons and Dragons)))) uses the service to live stream its professional level gaming tournaments. There’s one going on right this minute (time of writing, not necessarily your time of reading) in Dublin and it’s pretty exciting to watch. Why?
Several reasons. It’s early in the season. A new set was recently released, dramatically changing the playing field. New interesting effects and mechanics are now accessible and it’s fascinating to see how they interact with those that were previously dominant. There were also recently some high profile bannings. Cards deemed too dominant and oppressive were banned from competitive play. This meant a huge overturn in viable deck archetypes. Why? Because if certain cards are too strong, it means that you either have to adapt your deck to play with or against them. Sometimes both. This can make the format feel stale, boring and in general unfun. Since Wizards’ primary motivation is to sell more product for their parent company Hasbro, they want to keep pro play fun. A fun pro scene means more players playing, buying product and in general a healthier environment for the game.
When it comes to watching an event like this, you’re seeing the best of the best squaring off against one another. As a big fan of the game, I spend a metric fuck-ton of my time (sadly, more time than I spend playing) reading strategy articles. I’m pretty engaged by new emergent decks or clever card interactions. On the pro tour, the players competing are the same authors of so many of those articles. They relentlessly test against one another, learn the intricacies of each format and in general treat the game like another full time job (there’s prize money, but it’s rare for the game to be lucrative enough to be a full time vocation). In short, it’s basically Magic’s version of the NBA. Still, why would this be so exciting?
Watching the stream, many aspects of the game come into play. First and foremost, witnessing the skill of high level players. Magic’s a game that involves constant analysis of game state, potential outcomes, quick mathematical calculations and deep knowledge of the format/mechanical interactions. These people play at a level so far beyond me that they can think of fascinating lines of play I’d never consider. It strengthens my future game knowing of these interactions. It’s also exciting to see all these high calibre players clash with decks I’d never be able to afford. Sometimes there are huge blowouts due to luck or unexpected metagame decisions. Seeing a multitude of decks created to take advantage of how they expect the format to evolve is kind of inspiring. To see the pay off from their endless hours testing is really rewarding, even as a spectator.
There are also “limited” events. Limited in this context meaning that their deck is limited by the cards they open. Players each have a total of three boosters (15 cards per) that they pass around a table, picking a card one by one. They have to make a deck based on what comes their way. It involves luck, for sure, but a ton of skill in evaluating the format, making both informed and gut decisions. When these factors all come together in a strong deck, it’s fucking great. In fact, I may just log back in to see how it’s all going.
I guess I know how my weekend’s gonna go.