Monday, September 11, 2017

Thank You Magic Online

Last week we got our first look at Magic: The Gathering Arena. The new digital offering will be the latest way to play the world's best collectible card game on the internet. While Arena is not officially taking the place of Magic Online and the former program will continue to be supported, it may just be a matter of time (years and years) before the two become one. 

That is pure speculation, of course. For all we know Arena could flop and Magic Online will continue to succeed, the alligator of its age. These words are not about the potential future of digital Magic, nor will they be a critique of Magic Online's shortcomings (of which there are many). Rather I am going to be extolling Magic Online the entity (as opposed to the program). In my opinion, Magic Online has done more for the democratization of Magic content than just about any other innovation in the past 15 years.

Content is a hungry beast and trying to keep every stripe of Magic player sated is a daunting task. Before there was an official websites there was the USENET, then the Dojo. Then came and the Mothership as we know it today. StarCityGames and ChannelFireball are big names today, with TCGPlayer carrying on the legacy of GatheringMagic is a relative newcomer (shout out to my home) but there are tons of sites: PureMTGO, MTGGoldfish, HipstersoftheCoast and on and on and on. And this doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of independent YouTubers, Streamers, and Tumblrers. 

We are legion.

What Magic Online did, however, was give people spread far and wide access to Magic at an incredibly high level. In the time Before one would have to be part of a relatively elite group in order to provide high level content. Want to talk tournaments? You better live in a PTQ corridor or already be on the tour itself. Casual Magic more your speed? You need to have a well established playgroup that isn't growing up or moving away any time soon. Limited? I hope you had perfect recall.

See what Magic Online really did is that it brought every aspect of the game to everyone with a high speed internet connection and a disposable income. I mention this because ignoring it does a disservice to the very real requirements of playing Magic. Yet with access to these anyone could start playing more, and eventually play against improved competition. 

So you no longer had to move to a specific city to find a hotbed of Magic (as Mike Pustilnik did, potentially apocryphally) - you could just join a Daily Event of a single elimination tournament. And you could grind away and tweak your deck. Then you could share your experience. 

Or you could develop software that tracked your draft and helped you learn where you draft may have gone wrong. You could share these with the world and create an entire new style of article and help teach the world how to draft. An eternal wellspring, this would never grow old since every few months (give or take) a new draft environment would emerge. 

All of this was before streaming. With the advent of screen-capture technology actual games could be recorded and dissected. Not only could you practice but you could do it and share what you learned in real time with anyone who tuned in. In a happy twist on The Poltergeist you could suck your audience into your screen but teach them something instead of torment them. 

Magic Online worked for content creation but it also helped to create the current generation of stars. Luis Scott-Vargas, Brad Nelson, Reid Duke, Ondrej Strasky, Yuuki Ichikawa, and so many more cut their teeth on the cursor. The Pro Tour does not look like it does today without Magic Online.

Now it's time for my trademark hyperbole. I liken the program, as flawed as it is, to the printing press. It took something that was available to the concentrated few and made it easier for those of some means to have a shot access. Not only could more play the game but those who never knew they could create now how their shot.

I am, of course, biased. Without Magic Online there is a very good chance I drift away from the game. I never find my niche and I never started writing. And I wonder how true that is for many other people out there today.

This is not a eulogy. Just one guy's chance to show his appreciation. So thank you Magic Online - you gave a whole lot of us a shot. 

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