Hello reader! What We Learned is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast written by former amateur Magic Player Rich Stein, who came really close to making day two of a Grand Prix on several occasions. 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.

Perhaps it’s old news at this point, but there isn’t a whole lot going on this week in the world of cardboard combat so we’re going to talk about the Cease and Desist order that Hasbro served to the developers of the popular Cockatrice software a couple weeks ago. The order accomplished its goal in shutting down Cockatrice while the legal issues are all sorted out. In the meantime though, we can take a look at the long road that has brought the digital offerings of Magic the Gathering to the place they are today.

For a long time, every licensed Magic product in a digital format was absolute garbage. The problem is that for a while Wizards (or the studios they hired) thought that fans of playing Magic would really like to play a video game that was flavored in Magic instead of a game that focused on playing Magic. They were basically catering exclusively to the Vorthos psychographic many years before psychographics even existed as a concept. There were some things that would appeal to Spike, Johnny and Timmy but ultimately it was the niche group of Vorthoses (Vorthosi?) who would enjoy these games the most.

The first foray was the eponymous Magic: the Gathering RPG which was set in Shandalar. This game thankfully included playing Magic against the computer, but also included a campaign in which the player needed to gather cards from across the game to build their deck. Wizards was on the right path, but the fun part (playing Magic) was buried in an awful RPG.  The option to just play Magic was also there, but it was 1997, and needless to say there were some bugs. There would be an expansion to include Antiquities and Arabian Nights and then an updated version of the game which included The Dark and Legends. That release was called Duels of the Planeswalkers. Foreshadowing!

So then Wizards had Acclaim build a real-time strategy game set in a plane called Corondor and that game was predictably awful. It was called Battlemage and it may have been the worst piece of awful to have the name Magic: the Gathering stamped on it if Homelands had never been made.

In 2001 Wizards had Sega re-make the original RPG for the Dreamcast with cards from Sixth Edition, Alliances and Tempest. Next time you have nothing better to do try building constructed decks for that crap-shoot of a format. It was not very enjoyable. Like the 1997 release, the game was still very difficult to put into code, though the sixth edition rules change did help quite a bit.

In 2002 Wizards finally got the message and built Magic Online. I was a sophomore in college and damned if I wasn’t blown away by the ability to draft online at two o’clock in the morning—much to the chagrin of my roommate. The game was full of bugs but it was Magic and I was playing it online, with people, all over the world. Spoiler Alert: This one was a good idea.

Sometimes I think Wizards has more money than they know what to do with. Battlegrounds, which was published in 2003 and developed by Atari for PC and XBOX, was another Vorthos game. Wizards actually didn’t maintain Magic Online themselves, and I guess they wanted to keep getting mileage out of the license. But this would be the last time they rent the license out. In 2004, they finally took over control of Magic Online (version 2.0) and would manage the license themselves for a while.

In 2009 Wizards release the new Duels of the Planeswalkers, which was essentially Magic Online without the awful feeling of paying money for virtual cards you could never feel between your fingers. It was all right, but the AI was awful and the gameplay itself left much to be desired. Deck building was atrocious and so on and so forth so hey, let’s go make another crappy game.

Apparently, in 2011, a game called Magic: the Gathering Tactics was released by Sony Online Entertainment. I just learned this while researching this piece, so, yeah, great marketing job there, Wizards. I’ve been playing Magic since I was 12 and video games since I was six, but I just now found out about a Magic video game that released two years ago.

So anyway, Wizards thankfully realized that people just wanted to play Magic, and Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 answered all of our prayers. Like an angel descending from the heavens it blessed us with the ability to build decks, play against our friends, play fun formats (Archenemy!) and ascend to glory! It catered to every psychographic and sold very well online. So well in fact that a 2013 version followed in the next year.

So what has this romp through history taught us? That people clearly want to play Magic as a video game. They don’t want a video game that’s related to Magic, or mentions Magic. They want to actually play Magic. This shouldn’t be too surprising, since the reason we mostly play Magic is to, you know, play Magic. For some reason though, it took Wizards a while to catch on. They still might not have figured it out.

So when a program like Cockatrice comes along, Wizards becomes concerned. Unlike a draft simulator, which is peripheral to Magic, or a deck building engine, which is auxillary to Magic, Cockatrice facilitates the actual playing of Magic. This is, as we’ve learned, the actual thing that Wizards has a license for that people want to do.  So Hasbro writes up a Cease and Desist order and ships it off to the fine folks running Cockatrice.

“But where’s the justice in the world?” you ask. I don’t know. It’s probably somewhere in Communist China or behind the Iron Curtain. If you think Wizards has a monopoly then you have no idea how intellectual property works. If you don’t think that the rules of Magic are an IP then you can scroll through the archives here and read all about the US Patent that Wizards owns for this game we all love.

At the end of the day playing Magic online is profitable and its something that Wizards owns the license for. When a program like Cockatrice tries to facilitate that, Wizards really has no choice but to take legal action to protect their brand. If you learn anything this week, it should be this: the company with the better lawyers is usually correct, especially when it comes to patent law.

The Quick Hits

  • A pretty sweet selection of original Magic artwork was on display last weekend at Emerald City Comic Con. I would probably commit an atrocity in exchange for the original artwork for Stasis. Just putting that out there in case you have any dirty work you need done. [Gathering Magic]
  • MJ Scott assigns a fragrance to each of Magic’s Planeswalkers. I’m pretty sure most Planeswalkers smell like Mountain Dew and body odor, but I guess Calvin Klein doesn’t bottle that up. [Gathering Magic]
  • TCGPlayer landed an interview with Wizard’s creative team  member Doug Beyer about stuff. Though, I’m not sure how much truth you can take from someone who’s novel is called The Secretist. [TCGPlayer]
  • Blake Rasmuessen teaches you how to learn. I’m pretty sure this is a Catch 22, but read it anyways and let me know. [Gathering Magic]
  • Grand Prix Trials are coming to Magic Online. At this point it’s likely that even your great-aunt has byes to the next local GP. [Daily MTG]
  • In the wake of becoming the first woman to Top-8 a Pro Tour (how is this still not headline news?) Melissa De Tora will be forced to judge the next PTQ season instead of play in it. Tragedy indeed. [TCGPlayer]

Wallpaper of the Week

This week’s wallpaper is Ground Assault and it sucks. That’s the easiest wallpaper I’ve reviewed yet. Just, absolute garbage.

Grade: F

The Week Ahead

I’m in Hong Kong this week, and no I won’t bring you back a box of Chinese Gatecrash cards.

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