Hello reader! What We Learned is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast. The goal is to take some of the events and articles polluting the Magic world, strip out the chaff (tournament reports, game theory, economics) and give you our superior opinion. Complaints are encouraged.

Two thousand, six hundred and ninety-three players opened up six packs of Gatecrash on Saturday morning in the city of Charlotte, North Carolina. This was the largest Magic: the Gathering tournament ever held. If there have ever been any questions of the popularity of the game at the highest levels they should all be put to rest by this event’s staggering numbers.

As if that weren’t enough, Pro Tour Qualifier events for the Dragon’s Maze Pro Tour were also held this weekend. In fact, 12 PTQ events took place this weekend with 160 players in New York City. Given the rising averages of PTQ attendance and the Grand Prix in Charlotte, it’s safe to say that at least 5,000 people across the country played high level competitive Magic this weekend.

Oh, and 806 planeswalkers showed up for the Grand Prix in Quebec City as well. While that’s roughly a third of those who chose Gatecrash sealed over Standard, it still adds to an impressive weekend for Magic. But, we’re not done yet as this weekend was also Gatecrash Game Day! Just when you thought I couldn’t keep finding more people playing competitive Magic, there they are, slinging Standard decks across the country for all the local glory and fame.

If we throw Friday Night Magic into the mix, how many people do I think played competitive Magic this weekend? I think 10,000 would be a conservative estimate to be honest. The game is growing at a fantastic rate and this weekend, a cold one at the end of February, is a testament to the increasing interest in competitive play across the board.

But is this kind of growth sustainable? Normally periods of growth have been followed by some kind of change by Wizards which temporarily stunts this growth but ultimately has made the game flourish. Most recently the Caw-Blade era saw declining numbers in competitive play but since then the growth has been unparalleled.

There are some things Wizards can do to keep things going at this pace. Here’s my list of ten things Wizards needs to do in order to keep growing the game at this pace:

  1. Keep limited play (draft/sealed) exciting and interactive
  2. Maintain the quality of the constructed (standard/modern) environments
  3. Continued support for casual gamer products (Planechase, Commander’s Arsenal)
  4. Ongoing improvements to organized play
  5. Further build the brand through social media (Twitter/Facebook)
  6. Bring back the Magic Rewards Program
  7. Increase the number of competitive events at all levels
  8. Expanded support for third-party site involvement (StarCity/CFB/etc.)
  9. Improvements to digital products (Magic Online/Duels of the Planeswalkers)
  10. Change the way we look at the Core Set

Keep limited play exciting and interactive: There’s no denying that sealed and draft are the bread and butter of Magic’s growth market. Three times as many players traveled to Charlotte to play Gatecrash Sealed versus Quebec City for Standard Constructed. Considering that Quebec City is close to Montreal, where last week’s Pro Tour took place, and the pros still flocked to Charlotte, is a testament to how much more people enjoy playing limited. There was a small blip during Avacyn Restored, but for the most part limited play has been great for the past few years. Wizards would do well to keep doing what they’re doing in this department.

Maintain the quality of the constructed environments: It’s no secret that Caw-Blade’s dominance of Standard was a direct cause for a drop-off in attendance for competitive Magic. No one likes to see cards get banned, especially not in Standard, so Wizards needs to be more diligent in this area. They’ve been doing a great job since then, having learned their lesson about effects like Stoneforge Mystic and, to a lesser extent, Jace, the Mind-Sulptor. There was a bit of a scare during the Delver days but that passed uneventfully (since Infect butchered Delver decks whether or not anyone wants to believe it).

Continued support for casual gamer products: Sets like Planechase, Commander’s Arsenal and From the Vault are a boon to casual collectors. Sure, plenty of competitive players enjoy these products, but they’re not the target audience. Casual players love sets like these which come with either prepackaged decks to play with or a plethora of gorgeous collectibles. This is a great growth area for Wizards, and while some endeavors, like the Premium Deck Series, simply didn’t pan out, I’m glad to see them continue to expand these offerings. It can only lead to good things.

Ongoing improvements to organized playThis has been a point of contention ever since the introduction of the Planeswalker Points system. Things began very chaotic and then smoothed out. Now though, things are beginning to take on a negative tone again. Luckily, Wizards seems apt to listen to the feedback from players and we can only hope some changes are in the works. Personally, I think a greater dichotomy in the levels in the Pro Player Club, making it a little more accessible and easier to maintain membership will go a long way towards improving O.P.

Further build the brand through social media: Twitter and Facebook are incredibly powerful marketing tools and it’s wonderful to see Wizards fully supporting them. I’m not sure what improvements can be made, but hopefully they have someone looking into it.

Bring back the Magic Rewards Program: I am not saying we should be getting mailed valuable promos every few months again, but the Magic Rewards Program was a great way to make players feel good about how much money they were dropping at their local gaming stores. I would like to see this return in some form, with quality DCI membership cards and perhaps exclusive spoilers. Also, over-sized tokens or cards would be a nice touch.

Increase the number of competitive events at all levels: People want to play more Magic. That much is obvious. The more events there are, the more people will play. Wizards has experimented with this for years, and eventually they’ll get it right. Let’s hope that eventually is sooner rather than later.

Expanded support for third-party site involvement: Spoilers and theme weeks are great but I think Wizards could do more to support third party websites. For example, today a lot of sites use third-party scripts to do hover-overs on cards. Why isn’t this offered by Wizards as a way to link card names to Gatherer? Also the deck formatting used by Wizards would be nice. I don’t want every site out there to look like the mothership, but there are some places where magicthegathering.com could really lend a helping hand.

Improvements to digital products: Let’s face it. Magic Online’s interface is a bit of a joke at this point. For years Wizards has been touting that a new client would be coming out. I didn’t beta test the new client that was presented a couple months ago but it must not have gone well since it’s been hush hush since then. Duels of the Planeswalkers has been, by all accounts, a success, but it only caters to a small portion of the casual crowd. A few more features could make it a much more powerful tool for playing Magic. Digital offerings has been Wizards’ weakness for a while now, and not just for Magic the Gathering.

Change the way we look at the Core Set: We’re all in love with Ravnica but in a few months it will be time for Magic Core Set 2014. This basically knocks all the wind out of the game’s momentum as we go back to playing with boring cards that lack any kind of theme other than one token mechanic. Even that one mechanic, be it Exalted in 2013 or Bloodthirst in 2012, is lackluster at best. It’s time for Wizards to take a long hard look at how the Core Set is designed. The momentum that picks up throughout the Winter sets shouldn’t be left out to be crushed by the monotony of the Core Set.

And that’s all there is to it.

The Quick Hits

  • It seems like just yesterday friend-of-the-blog Anthony Lowry was new to Magic. Now he’s written his last piece for Medina’s site and is moving on to bigger and better things! [LegitMTG]
  • Darwin Kastle detailed the process of how he put together his deck for Pro Tour Gatecrash. [Gathering Magic]
  • On Monday the official announcement for From the Vault: Twenty was released. My money is that the new artwork in the announcement if Force of Will. You heard it here first folks. [Magic Arcana]
  • Also announced the same day was the return of the fourth Pro Tour! Maybe someone at Wizards was clairvoyant about what I was writing this week (not likely). [Organized Play]
  • If you’re bored of Magic you should check out Horde Magic. I would explain it but you should just check it out yourself. [Quiet Speculation]
  • After babbling on about Boros Reckoner, Mark Nestico points out that Wizards may actually know what they’re doing when they hand out special invites to the Pro Tour. [TCGPlayer]
  • I don’t normally link to competitive articles, but Gerard Fabriano outlined his plans for GP Charlotte and then made the Top-8 [SCG Select]
  • Jason Alt should have spent more time talking about how awesome Melissa DeTora’s performance at PTGTC was instead of everything else he talked about. [Jason’s Archives]
  • Over at LegitMTG they think they’ve got a good idea on what’s in FTV:20. Their guess at Force of Will confirms my beliefs on the promo artwork, but more importantly I hope they’re right about Stasis. [LegitMTG]
  • Matt Sperling compares Melissa DeTora’s rise on the Pro Tour to openly gay rugby player Gareth Thomas. It’s unfortunate there isn’t a more prominent openly gay athlete for Sperling to have compared DeTora to, but that’s a different issue. [Channel Fireball]
  • Check out two prominent cosplayers that Jason Alt thinks you should check out. [Who to Follow]
  • Have too many Magic cards? I know I do. John Agley wants to help! [StarCity Games]
  • Grafdigger’s Cage was the most played artifact at PTGTC with only 38 appearances. Not a shining moment for artifacts, eh? [Fantasy Pro Tour]
  • Finally, here’s the tournament report from Melissa DeTora’s history-making run to the Top-8 of Pro Tour Gatecrash. [TCGPlayer]

Wallpaper of the Week

I wasn’t thrilled at first with Fathom Mage as the wallpaper this week, but after I threw it up I realized it was a nice change of pace from the aggressive reds and oranges we’ve been bombarded with over the past few weeks and the grey sadness of last week’s Contaminated Ground.

Grade: B+

The Week Ahead

I have a feeling Grand Prix Yokohama next weekend isn’t going to draw 2,693 players for Gatecrash Sealed which is a shame because Yokohama is a little nicer than Charlotte, NC.

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