12.30.03 I can hear it already....
"Hokey Smokes! The Pojo is doing more article writing and asking people I don't even know to write for them!?!?"
Ok ok, maybe its closer to...
"Hokey Smokes! The Pojo is doing more article writing and picking THAT guy to write for them?!?!?"
Or maybe not. Maybe itís nothing like that.
Maybe you used more profanity.
In any case, itís true. I have graciously been asked to do some writing here, and since I haven't really actively written since the days of the Dojo, and a few very brief forays into writing for E-League, it seemed like a great time to start again. This article may be a bit longer than usual, as I wanted to explain who I am to those of you who may not know, AND still have something good to write about. As such, for those of you that know me, just skip the entire "Who is this Ray guy?" part and jump to the meat. For the rest of you....
Who is this Ray guy?
My name is Ray Powers, and I am currently a Level 3 Judge, and the Wizards of the Coast Tournament Organizer for all of Arizona, and for San Diego. I also am known as Monkster on EFNet IRC, and help run #mtgjudge (obviously a channel for judges), and #mtgwacky, one of the largest Magic chat channels around. But, this doesn't tell you much. I'm going to try not to bore you, but go a bit into my history so you can see where I am coming from on different things, and learn to never ever trust my Magic strategy advice. :)
I started playing Magic at the Dark/Fallen Empires crossover. Originally, the old Revised Two Player Magic Set was a Christmas present for my roommate, from me. He was a big fan of D&D, and it seemed like something he would enjoy playing. Ah those were the days, when none of us understood the rules and a first turn play of Forest, Llanowar Elf, tap Elf for Llanowar Elf, tap Elf for Llanowar Elf was not uncommon. Summoning Sickness? What was that?!
We had a good six months of fun casual play with two others and myself before I heard of a local store running a tournament and went to go try it out. I played what would now be considered a Suicide Black deck. The event was 30 or so players, and I piloted my deck to a top 4 before being crushed by someone who knew what they were doing and came in with a Vice Age deck, for those of you that remember the deck types back then. Of course back then I didn't know what Vice Age was, or Suicide Black. I just remember that guy played Black Vice, and boy did we all hate Black Vice. But regardless I made top 4, and sure enough, I was hooked. I would like to point out that I had my "best draw ever" in that tournament with a blistering start of Swamp, Dark Ritual, Dark Ritual, Dark Ritual, Erg Raider, Erg Raider, Erg Raider, Unholy Strength on one of the Erg Raiders. (Yes, that's 8 cards; this was before the play draw rule.) My opponent, playing Mono-Blue Control, just scooped.
So, I started playing competitively. This did not endear me to my friends who played, as they were not that competitive, and eventually they stopped playing completely. I fell in with a new crowd, started posting on UseNet news groups about deck strategies and so forth, and felt like I was a member of the Magic Community, if there was such a thing. Then I took the grand step of playing in a PTQ, run by a gentleman named Dan Gray. If there is anyone I can safely blame for my continuation in Magic and being where I am today, its Dan. We got along pretty well, and he eventually convinced me to become a judge. Dan was Organizing for Southern California and Arizona back then, and he needed help in developing staff in the places he ran events, and somehow I ended up that choice, along with Matt Stenger, a judge who was already ahead of me on the judge curve.
Slowly but surely I became a level 2, then a level 3, with the help of Dan. I started working Pro Tour events, and I was doing more and more to help Dan out with the Arizona events, eventually pretty much running them on my own. After a while, Dan simply asked Scott if I could become a Tournament Organizer on my own, Scott agreed, and I received Arizona all to myself. San Diego came later on, and there's not much story to it, so I'll pass on. Somewhere in all of this I kept playing, making a couple PTQ top 8's, and I became a play tester for Magic for a period of time, until they brought it all in house.
Meanwhile, life went on. During all this I graduated college, and went to work for a company called Avnet as a Programmer. I worked my way up the ranks and was a high level Project Manager when the big one hit. The big one being Y2K; or the Year 200 project. Y2K was a thankless monstrous project of epic proportions for a company as big as Avnet, and at age 28, I was put in charge of it for Avnet EM, the largest group of Avnet. For the next couple of years I ran the biggest project I ever had seen, while at the same time working on other company mergers and smaller projects, but it all worked out and in the end Avnet made the year 2000 changeover without a hitch.
I, on the other hand, was a frazzled mess. Years of playing silly political games to get things done that in my opinion were strictly common sense had gotten to me, and I wanted out of corporate America. I had some nice bonuses for the work I had done. I had this fun thing I did on the side running events. Why not try to turn that into my business?
Thus, in 2001, was Gamer's Edge born. Keep in mind, to be honest, I had never really looked at the game industry as a business before this. I really didn't run events to make money. I ran events because SOMEONE had to, and I enjoyed the players. But from this moment on, all of that changed. And strangely enough, I really liked it. I enjoyed seeing how the Game industry ticks. What works and doesn't in retail, why games fail and why games succeed, and how some companies can seem to make horrible after horrible decision and still be successful based on branding alone. Itís very interesting and scary at the same time. In fact, I run an online diary at http://monkster.modblog.com that will tackle a lot of opinions about the gaming industry as a whole.
This is the perspective you'll see from me more often than not. "Wizards of the coast is doing this with Magic, and this is what I think about it and why." If these are not the kind of articles you enjoy, I admit I may not be the person for you. But keep in mind; I have been a player, a play tester/developer, a judge, a storeowner, and an event organizer. I have a lot of different points of perspective when it comes to these things, and I hope you'll find some of them interesting. And if I ever slip up and decide to offer Magic strategic advice to you, remember I have never even been on the Pro Tour. Don't trust me. :)
And now, for my first topic...
The Junior Super Series, good or bad?
AndÖ. I lost some of you right there.
ďUh Ray, I hear giving out $1,000 Scholarships to kids is a good thing. Are you dumb?Ē
Of course giving out $1,000 Scholarships is a good thing. In fact, there are a lot of great things about the JSS. The Scholarships are wonderful, and these events tend to get younger aged children into playing in sanctioned Magic events, which keeps the game fresh and new with an influx of new tournament players.
Before I go much further, letís try to reduce this to a vision. The JSS program is dedicated to 1) getting scholarships to kids, and 2) getting younger players into tournaments. I think we can all agree to that.
But some parts of the implementation of this vision just donít seem to be healthy for the game overall. Itís almost as if the JSS was created with the belief that it operated in a vacuum, and would not affect Magic tournament play over all. This is, unfortunately, not true, and the JSS system does not compare correctly with the other Magic Programs.
First, if you want to give out Scholarships, why limit it to players under 16? A strictly business guess is that Wizards has some sort of investment program they use for these scholarships, but the reality is that this is not necessary, and making the age limit 18 and under is much more in line with the concept of scholarships for youth. It would make the competition much stiffer if the JSS events stayed as they were, but Iíll get to that later.
Second, the payoff for this event is way too high for the ďrisk and investment.Ē The last JSS I ran had 14 players. This is the only Magic event where you can pay $15, play against 13 other people, and win $1,000. Even very small PTQís donít give this payoff, and they cost more. One of my good friends argued that this prize was not cash, so the value was not the same, but I think its close enough to be irrelevant.
In short, JSSís are the ďbest dealĒ in Magic Organized Play, and as such, this creates a much more competitive event than I think Wizards intended. They may have the event at Rules Enforcement Level 1, but when the older, more serious kids get a taste of winning $1,000 scholarships, the rules lawyering and potential for cheating grows quickly. Its very tempting for a younger player to ďcheat to winĒ with such a large prize on the line for a low rules enforcement level event.
Also, Iíd like to point out that, in my personal experience, JSSís do not really garner new players, so much as encourage them to participate in this particular event, so I am not sure the JSS is fulfilling this part of the vision at all.
But we want to stay true to the vision. We want to give out scholarships, and we want to create more incentive for younger players to play in tournaments. To maintain this vision, I have an idea I think would work well.
First, get rid of the Junior Super Series tournaments as they exist right now. Keep the Junior Championship, but get rid of the low rules enforcement level high payout events. Instead, begin issuing the scholarships and invites to the championship based on composite ranking for younger players. For each state, two scholarships and two invites to the championship go out. One to the highest ranked player under 18, and one to the highest ranked player under 16. This keeps the prizes spread out across all the states, and gives them out to players who have accomplished something over the past year. Doing one for each age group keeps interest for the younger players who may be concerned that, in upping the age range, weíve cut them out of the prize pool.
That same friend pointed out to me that you can qualify for the Pro Tour through rankings and qualifying events, and why shouldnít the JSS Championship be the same? If you think thatís a good idea, then fine, keep JSSís as qualifying events, but remove the $1,000 Scholarship as part of the prize for those events. That should keep the events at the rules and play level we really want them to be.
This solution requires a minimal database query change for Wizards to implement, and it removes the high pressure, high payoff events that JSSís are right now. Most importantly, by doing it based on ranking, we have encouraged younger players to play in sanctioned events ALL YEAR LONG, which is really what we want to accomplish, isnít it?
Well, I hope you enjoyed my first article. Iím trying to think of some neat ideas to end each weekís article with and need your feedback. What do you think you would enjoy for each article? A random funny IRC quote? A link to an interesting Game Industry article? A quick recap on any events I ran this week? Something else? Any ideas gladly accepted. Just e-mail me at rayp-at-primenet.com.
Have a great week!
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