Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Birmingham - City of Magic

When we started playing on March 11th 2011 by buying the Deck Builder's Toolkit 2011 we found few Magic The Gathering events happening in our local town (Birmingham, UK).  Now it requires two blog posts.  One with the list - and one to explain what I think happened (I am an Analyst after-all).

This is the second post with what I feel caused this shift, and my tiny part in it:

On March 11th 2011 three guys with disposable income walked into a games store and paid £15 for a box of cards. Each. Then one of them bought a second box (this was me).  This simple action was part of a chain of events that led to a town with only one Wizards Play Network (WPN) event per quarter (Magic Geek's Pre Releases) getting more than any one person could attend, or even easily count.  While I am personally responsible for these three poor souls (and a 4th who tried his best to resist the call of the Elves) I'm not responsible for the amazing amount of events that are scheduled for the next two weekends, but I thought it'd be interesting to see exactly what was.  But I'm getting ahead of myself - the real story starts during the Xbox December online sales.

I was working away over the pre-Xmas period and spotted on my Xbox that the Magic The Gathering game had dropped in price from 800 points (£6.40) to 400 points (£3.20) and while I'd enjoyed the trial it's safe to say I didn't really get the game so I deleted it.  I figured it'd be some cheap fun and good for short breaks in work and so I bought it after redownloading and re-trialing it.  I played it an awful lot over the next few months - encouraging friends to get it too.  I also renamed the blog and re-purposed it from Pokemon to general games (as was always planned in my 'write every day' strategy for essay improvement).  Shortly after this promotion the game hit half a million copies sold and the sequel was announced.  I looked into buying cards and found that a beginners box of cards was about £17 but that if we waited a month then the new version was out.  I mentioned it to people at work and we decided to all jump in. Note in that last story that my total cards budget was £25 and I'd said I'd sell any I found worth over £10.

Some opened all their boxes and put into piles.  I catalogued all three sections here, and looking back it's amazing to see that some of the cards from those first 8 boosters are still ones I play.  This section still gets a huge chunk of the site visits so this is an amazingly popular product and loads of the people at Friday Night Magic (FNM) have the boxes from this for cards, but again this is yet to come.

Over the next few weeks I raised my spending limit to £100 and then broke it all without getting anywhere near a win, even casually.  I like to think of this as the Schumacher effect (after the F1 driver). He tended to go off a lot in practice sessions and the UK commentators would get happy that he was vulnerable.  Truth is the only way to find out the absolute fastest speed you can take a corner at is to go over it and then do just a bit less in the actual race.  This effect stood me in good stead as a month and a half after buying the cards I'd actually won some crucial big games within our casual circle - go me!  Uni was busy and so was work so MTG had taken a back seat.  

I did some Googling about the new set and found that they were running an event 20 min walk from my house for it's release!  I had to go - even if it was £25 and only 8 weeks after we started playing.  Mentally i was drained before I'd turned up, but I did OK and found Karn & a Mox Opal which have since traded places on the value scales.  I was surprised to find the event was relaxed and full of people just like me who played for fun (at the bottom tables at least!) and I honestly think that if this first experience wasn't so great that I'd have never gone to another event. I was also surprised to find out that it wasn't some official organiser and just run by the shop Magic Geek.  I now understand how it all works, but do feel sorry for  the tournament organisers like Steve that don't get all the bonuses the physical shops get just because he runs online & events only (especially when so many people seem to be new players that turn up to his events - new DCI cards are always being given out).

Karn took a trip to e-bay, didn't sell and then I went and bought a box of boosters which was rapidly shredded and then ignored due to work.  A month passed.  All was quiet on the MTG front and then something happened.  The new version of the Xbox game launched.  This simple pebble into the placid lake of nerddom is the start of why we have the massive amount of events.  Suddenly the people who missed out on the game and the related promotions had an excuse to join us in our addiction.  The promo cards were dished out giving the site a confusing story (as I got the old promo decks by mistake) but one that still gets the most hits.  The promo cards were only in proper game stores, and the online tool (when it was playing ball) directed you to these shops.  Our local store Wayland's Forge practically sold out of sealed Magic decks and boosters when this happened - all their lapsed players returned at once.  This amazing act of acquisition convinced a lot of other stores that they should also register to give out the promotional cards - other stores pinged up on the WPN radar as places to not only buy cards, but to get the special shiny giants.

As the actual launch for Magic 2012 came and went the stores seemed to realise that they'd missed out on a pay day.  Customers like me were talking about their competitors and travelling a few miles to the events.  It's still a big job to put on a full Magic event so most waited until the Magic Celebration (a free event for both stores and consumers which I couldn't attend) to get started.  A few started a little earlier such as the fabulous Road to WPN Blog details where a guy with no stores ends up running two lots of events and Game UK who runs the FNM that I've been to 5 of so far - even though it's only just become official and only gets the Promo cards from October.  A store needs to run events before it becomes a CORE store and gets full access to the promo program and Game UK has just hit that one week too late to run a pre-release.  I guess many are in a similar position as most Birmingham stores are only running a launch (or an unofficial event on launch day in a few cases!).  This suggests that Magic Celebration needs to be about a month earlier so that stores can get 3 more events in within the time needed to pre-release the first set in the new block.

As an aside you may have noticed from the pics I got 4 titans - I bought 4 copies of the game! While the Steam & XBL versions were for myself the two spare XBL versions were for younger relatives.  Since I paid for their games I got their promo, but since then both have expressed an interest in the paper product too... This was a risk I was willing to take as frankly there are far more damaging activities for teenagers than a card game that teaches important lessons about budgeting, winning and loosing and encourages critical thought.  Long story short both are turning up to the last Zendikar FNM as their first full FNM (one made it to half of one a week ago...).  More player acquisitions due to the value and desirability of the promos.  I'm guessing a similar story has been told in many households and across many formats.

This mass of events is great for semi-players like our group.  We aren't too bothered about winning the whole thing, we are just happy to participate.  I got 2nd at one of these Friday tournaments but was lucky that no-one expected infect (cheers MaRo!) and may not get away with that again.  This mass of events is basically the market's response to the new player base, and the response by us the player will determine how many survive.  I suspect the Sat pre-release will fill up so am going to pre-book my place just in case.

As every store in town creeps towards Core status together in the next three months it will be very interesting.  Cards will get cheaper for stores and maybe players, players will get better due to practice and events will either become larger or forced out by the competition.  Those attached to shops may not care once they get the bonuses that Core status brings (lower priced stock and more freebies) but some may push for ADVANCED status for running 32+ player events.

Magic is poised to become bigger than it's ever been.  I've played with people from work as a pretence to invite people over for an evening of fun.  My fiance has even invited her work friends over and joined in with the fun (although Commander probably wasn't the best place to start).  And over the next few months I'll play a lot less - these things always cycle, but a few good friends have expressed an interest in being shown how to turn creatures sideways and 'Despise' people with a smile on their face.  And who am I to deny them that pleasure.

Planeswalkers 09 dropped in price & reached a broader section of marketplace
Cheap beginner card sets got the early adopters in
Planeswalkers 2012 restarted everyone at the same point with desirable shiny cards
Magic Celebration got people out into the shops proving that there was an audience
Stores responded and scheduled events - if unsupported they may be one offs.

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