5, Jan, 22

WotC Are Not Magic's Biggest Problem, Gatekeepers Are...

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I have to admit, when The Professor from Tolarian Community College posted his excellent ‘Who is the Greatest Villain in Magic: The Gathering?’ video, I already saw the inevitable comments before they had even been left. Despite only being an active part of this community for just over one year, I just knew the anti-WotC/Hasbro crowd were about to have a field day.

It got me thinking, where did this narrative come from that Wizards of the Coast – the body who have brought the game to where it is today – is suddenly the worst thing to happen to it? Of course, they’re not the creators of the game but they’ve been there since day one. The sad reality is that some would sooner look at a major organization as an enemy than face the truth.

Gatekeepers have been ruining Magic: The Gathering for years and it’s time to hold them accountable.

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The Vocal Minority

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Gatekeeping exists in all fanbases. Within Magic, it’s an incredibly small number but they – at times – have the loudest voice be it online or in local communities. I can distinctly remember at least 5 different occasions over a decade where I entered a small local game store and got talking about Magic long before I played it.

The very first time was back in 2013. I had just purchased a Deckbuilders Tool Kit intending to learn the game so that I could frequent my local stores and get myself another hobby. When approaching the store owner, I explained what I had purchased and what I was looking to accomplish. To my surprise, I was lambasted for purchasing my product online and told not to bother coming back unless I plan on spending some serious money in-store.

I was speechless. I thought it was a joke, but no. The players who were heads down in a game had their attention drawn to this conversation and backed the store owner up. The phrase that stuck with me for years was ‘We don’t want new players thanks, we need more people who can already appreciate the game‘.

I told myself that maybe I caught everyone on a bad day, I would give them some credit and just take my custom elsewhere. Once my toolkit arrived, I sat down excitedly and tried my best to learn the basics of the game. As it turns out, this is much easier if you know someone who already plays and can explain the little nuances to you.

So, I set out once again to a different store, toolkit in hand, looking to see if someone would kindly teach me how to play. I found a store that was actually above a nail parlour and there was only one person in the store when I arrived. I was greeted and asked what my business was. Upon making it clear why I was there, the owner seemed a little taken aback but was willing to have a game with me to help me out. He openly admitted that another player would help with numbers for game nights so why not do a good deed.

Then he immediately tried to charge me around £80 for a pre-constructed deck and some booster packs. He called it his ‘training fee’. There were other instances like this where I was told I wasn’t wanted because I was new or because I’m not able to shell out a ridiculous amount of money to get started.

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That’s Not MY Magic

I decided to pursuit Magic knowledge online instead. I went to YouTube and looked up some ‘getting started’ videos. This is where I eventually learned how to play, but the issue was still finding someone to play with. I hit up forums where I was once again met with the unwelcoming gatekeepers that seemed to be deeply embedded within my local players.

A few reached out privately to offer to play games and this went on for a few weeks but working my way into a larger scene was still proving difficult due to my lack of experience and stubborn organisers.

I continued to learn the ways of Magic through forums and was met with constant brick walls. It was so bad that it wasn’t until the release of MTG Arena that I was able to start playing regularly which happened in late-2019.

Given that it had been a few years since my last attempt at getting into Magic, I gave this new look community a chance and was pleasantly surprised. There was a more helpful feel among players online even though there were still negative pockets who hated Arena or didn’t like something about the direction of the game.

Sadly, it took so long to feel like the Magic community was willing to accept me that I can’t help but fear that many players are still running into the same issues I had. Even with Arena as an easier access point to the game. I still see a naive minority across social pages and in online space who are determined to continue gatekeeping the Magic IP as if its meaning to them out-trumps that of everyone else.

If you wonder why Magic maybe isn’t growing quite at much as it could, take stories like mine that are still happening around the community. They’re maybe not as extreme or blatant, but gatekeeping comes in many forms and none are acceptable.

It could be an innocent comment about someone’s time spent playing the game or even the money they’ve invested. Magic is a game for everyone and there are no criteria someone needs to meet to be eligible to play.

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