Magic the Gathering has a quality problem but it may not be the one you think. This week, amid reports of damaged packs, shady repacking, poor collating, and other misprint  issues with Modern Masters 2, we dive into the real quality control problems facing Wizards of the Coast.

Zen and the Art of Modern Masters

It’s Sunday afternoon and the Top 8 of Grand Prix Utrecht is being announced on one Twitch channel while the other Magic Twitch channel is watching Chris Fennell drafting Modern Masters 2 in the opening draft of Day Two at Grand Prix Las Vegas. This is the beginning of the close of Modern Masters Weekend. Yuki Matsumoto closed out Grand Prix Chiba very early on Sunday in the USA. If you enjoy watching the best players in the world draft one of the most challenging and exciting formats the game offers, then this is for you. Or, at the very least, it’s for the roughly 10,000 people who are currently watching.

In the meantime, the combined Twitch viewership of DOTA 2, League of Legends, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is just over half-a-million people. There are also almost 90,000 people watching Hearthstone’s Viagame House Cup #3 and 20,000 people watching Starcraft II’s WCS Premiere League. All told it’s a great Sunday afternoon for the eSports genre. 600,000 viewers is nothing to laugh at. Two weeks ago, NBC was touting the fact that the online stream of the Washington Capitals vs. the New York Rangers in game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals had attracted 151,000 viewers. The game on NBC Sports Network averaged 2.7 million viewers.

That’s 600,000 for eSports online, 2.7 million for NHL playoffs on TV, and 151,000 for NHL playoffs online. And 10,000 people watching Magic the Gathering’s Modern Master’s Weekend.

Quality Control

Over the past few weeks a number of reports have come out about various issues with Modern Masters cards before they even came out of packs. The problems varied from physical damage, to printer errors (misprints), to collation discrepancies. Taking the cake was the allegations that packs, in the new recyclable packaging, could be easily opened and resealed, making the secondary market for individual packs incredibly risky. But none of this is terribly new. Misprints and packaging issues are almost as old as the game itself. Repacks, pack mapping, crimping, and other issues are not as uncommon as you may think.

The difference is that all eyes are on Modern Masters in a way that they simply aren’t with a set like Dragons of Tarkir or the upcoming Magic: Origins. The incredibly high value contained within packs of MM2 makes them highly scrutinized. If there’s a chance your Dragonlord Ojutai comes out of a pack with a little wear on the corners or if there’s a chance the packs of DTK you bought from a dude on the street have no good rares, well the risk is pretty low. But if there’s a chance that all the Tarmogoyfs are missing from the case of MM2 you pre-ordered, well now there’s a huge problem.

The Quality of Magic

It seems clear that Magic has a quality problem. Quality is, of course, a very difficult concept to fully comprehend and appreciate. Philosophers have spent centuries considering the nature of quality but one thing is clear: people know bad quality when they see it and they tend to know high quality when they see it. So when shown the two issues above, one of production issues with the printing of Modern Masters 2 and one with viewership issues with the broadcasting of Modern Masters Weekend, well, which one do you think is actually an issue of quality?

The printing process is what it is. The potential risks deter very few people from playing Magic. That has, and will likely remain, the case. Broadcasting tournaments however remains a problem of quality in the most painfully obvious ways. Here’s a screenshot of the coverage from GP Utrecht’s top-8 draft:

Top 8 Draft

Quality? Not so much. Here’s a screenshot from the first draft of day two at Grand Prix Las Vegas:

Vegas Day 2 Draft 1

Forget quality, can we even get some consistency? I guess it’s just too much to ask for. Since the quality of what’s actually on-screen is so obviously poor in quality we have to defer to the quality of the voices broadcasting. Unfortunately these also fail to delivery anything remotely close to high quality. There is silence. Way, way, way too much silence. There is only surface analysis, nothing terribly in-depth. It’s every negative comment I’ve ever heard about the coverage of golf. It’s going to put me to sleep. I switch to Hearthstone.

Ironically Magic pro player Stanislav Cifka is on-screen and they are dealing with technical difficulties. The broadcast team isn’t silent despite the lack of any actual Hearthstone to show. They talk about the technical difficulty, waiting for an admin, and what the two players learned from the brief amount of game they played before the disconnect. Oh, and there’s a female voice on the broadcast. What a novel concept. It may not be top quality but it certainly has some semblance of quality.

I flip back to GP Utrecht. Silence, mostly. The commentators discuss what card Fabian Dickmann should pick. The choice is fairly obvious. Dickmann deliberates for about 20 seconds. It’s mostly silence, and Dickmann staring at a single card. This is the farthest thing from riveting I could think of. Maybe I’ll watch the 2015 Byron Nelson golf tournament. The commentary team for Hearthstone are sharing childhood stories while waiting for the technical problems to be resolved. It’s still more interesting than watching Fabian Dickmann draft and that’s the most pressing quality issue that Wizards needs to address.

The Quick Hits

  • Pretty much everyone and their mother was talking about how to build a Modern Masters 2 sealed pool this week, so here’s literally the only two articles from the week that are worth reading that aren’t about playing Magic. First up is MJ Scott’s Cosplay report on dressing up like Phyrexian Unlife. Second is Alex Ullman with a discussion of what makes a great Magic writer. If you’re sick of Modern Masters 2 deck tech or draft lists, read these two articles.

Wallpaper of the Week

Who doesn’t love Niv-Mizzet? No, seriously, because he’s hungry and prefers to eat his enemies. The only fail on the MM2 version of Niv-Mizzet is that he’s missing his iconic flavor text. Still, the legendary leader of the Izzet League is not to be trifled with and this wallpaper reminds us every day.

Grade: A-

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. Each week we will take a look at the past seven days of major events, big news items, and community happenings so that you can keep up-to-date on all the latest and greatest Magic: the Gathering community news.

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