After a little under a year of COVID-19 restrictions, Magic is in an interesting spot. The Magic: the Gathering Arena online client is more popular than ever, and it'll only grow faster once the mobile version becomes more widely available. However, there are now four Standard Magic sets that most of us have never drafted in paper. Though some may still be cracking packs at home, hoarding Pathway lands with diamond hands, Pandemonium's tournament arena has been converted to a temporary receiving area. And we've now seen around half a dozen Players Tours and Championships—some of the highest level Magic tournaments—held online via Arena. In fact, anyone can now win real American dollars from their desk at home on certain weekends.
From one perspective, the virus demanded that Wizards of the Coast immediately implement a perhaps inevitable process—moving high level play online, to compete with games like Hearthstone, Eternal, and Runeterra. While WotC has been clear in the past that paper Magic is not going away, they've also been clear about wanting a piece of the 'esports' pie. And players have actually complained for years about bad coverage of paper tournaments; glare on card sleeves; somewhat frequent technical difficulties; and, without a true artist in the announcer seat, absolutely no hope for a newer player trying to follow the game.
These complaints now feel like ancient history. I'd bet most entrenched Magic players would love nothing more than to watch an in-person tournament again. There was something special about seeing two people sitting across from each other playing cards, and indeed there's something special about sitting across from someone—perhaps a stranger at FNM, perhaps an old friend—and playing some Magic. If anything, I think the pandemic has revealed just how sad it would be for us to lose paper tournaments, even if we can get some degree of our fix online these days. And I've been wondering what will happen when the shots are in our arms, the arena is set up again downstairs, and you beautiful nerds, salt of the dang earth, come back to play cards. I'm not sure anyone knew how long this would last, or knows how long it will be until we can host a crowded tournament again. But the day will come, and though big tournaments may remain online, I think Magic and local game stores are basically inseparable. Out of the apartment and into the basement. Look forward to that joyous day.
I hope you're all taking care of yourselves, and I'm sure I speak for everyone on staff when I say I miss you very much. If you were a Magic player at Pandemonium in the last few years, you changed my life, and I'm sure I'm not alone in that either. Magic communities are strong—forged in the fire of competition, nurtured in fresh basement air. We'll see you soon.