Growing up, my parents really tried to get me into sports. We were a baseball family, and while the going was good and the prices were low, we had season tickets to watch the Phillies play. My favorite part of those days were the ice-cream sundaes they served in little baseball helmets, and I was far more interested in collecting them than I was in maintaining deep focus on a game that is at least 75% an exercise in patience. I didn’t like dead air then, and my antipathy for that sort of downtime has only increased over time.


For this reason, I’m not particularly familiar with the ESPN-style event coverage paradigm, which seems to perhaps have some specific genesis in Football broadcasts? There will probably be many question marks in this column, FYI. I’m an irregular viewer, though I wouldn’t mind watching more.


Anyway, the whole “panel of talking heads killing time between moments” thing just doesn’t speak to me, and the wholescale adoption of the model by Magic’s primary coverage team has driven me off the channel many a time. I don’t tune into a Pro Tour or a GP to see Randy Beuhler or Marshall Suttcliffe jawing away to fill time between rounds; as nice as they may be in person, and they are reputed to be most excellent dudes, I’m only turning into a Magic stream to watch Magic. Considering I’ve seen them stream different languages of coverage for the Pro Tour and other events, I’m fairly certain they could put all that talking head content on its own stream, so that there’s always match commentary going. If the coverage isn’t fresh enough for you, you can switch over for the deck techs and whatnot (perhaps advertised on a ticker at the bottom of the main feed).


Point is, give me an option that’s all meat and no gravy, and I’d watch a hell of a lot more coverage.


Star City Games hasn’t yet gone that far, but they’ve at least recognized that for most, event coverage is why people are coming to their channel. So they (used to?) run replays of earlier rounds in the interstitial periods, and it was good.


Side note: SCG also has a better, leaner commentator team, not that Wizards doesn’t have two excellent commentators on their bench as well (Jackie Lee and Luis Scott Vargas, neither of whom gets nearly enough screen time that I’ve seen).


Of course, if you’ve tuned in from the beginning, you might catch the loop if all they’re showing are earlier rounds. And looping past coverage doesn’t necessarily help in the earlier rounds, which seem likely to run longer on average. So, at some point during my lapse in regular event viewership, SCG stumbled upon a decision of pure brilliance: they started to show flashback matches, specifically ones curated to be interesting. I saw Patrick Sullivan beat a Maverick player with Legacy Burn, using a play I have both lost to and beaten in the Maverick player’s shoes . . . never tap your Wasteland if you’re dead to Price of Progress. I saw a monoblue Niv-Magus Elemental combo deck that used Sky Hussar and a legion of Cursecatchers to draw tons of cards, playing against a MUD deck that had approximately zero spells in it. That game, the combo deck survived two swings from a Blightsteel Colossus, an impressive feat against the card nicknamed “One-Shot Robot.” And the best part—it was amazing—was that these matches were edited to cut out the countless seconds between plays. The pace was a lot better, as a result of the solid editing job, and the curation was similarly well done. Whoever put those together deserves some serious praise.


I still trailed off during the Q&A period, because while I respect those commentators immensely, I have little patience for talking heads. But their best of compilation got me so interested in the content they were offering that I searched for it (and found it) on YouTube. I’ve tracked down missed rounds in Wizards coverage, but they’ve never shown something that has been so intriguing to me as to prompt an external search for more of the same.


While I recognize that not being a sports fan puts me in the minority of Americans as a whole, I can’t help but think that the demographic split is a little more balanced in the subgroup of Magic players. I mean, if my experience is at all indicative of a broader section of our community, there are a lot of kids who come to Magic at recess, choosing it over sports and sports fandoms. As such, you would think there would be room to do more experimental types of coverage, alongside the ESPN-style coverage. “Best of” match replays seem like they could offer a powerful tool in the engagement department.


So, at the very least I think the Mothership should rip off SCG and use best of match highlights to fill time that’s otherwise spent listening to a bunch of phenotypically similar dudes talk about the good old days. In writing, there’s an old adage, show, don’t tell. If these good old days were so good, show them to us! I certainly wasn’t watching event coverage ten years ago, and I can’t imagine the majority of potential viewers were either. Go through the footage of the past GPs and Pro Tours, find interesting matches, edit them, and then show those to us while we’re tuning in with the goal of watching the best of the best play the game. No one is coming to the stream for the primary purpose of seeing Randy Beuhler make weird innuendos about top players when they accidentally draw an extra card . . . to mention one of the coverage lowlights that has stayed with me.


But the Mothership has more money than SCG, so there’s also a broader realm of content they could be offering. They’ve already started doing those motion-comic intros for the different sets. What if they went further, and actually motion comic’ed all the key scenes in each set’s storyline? People who don’t read their incomprehensible website regularly (again, people like me) often lose track of the thread of the story. I mean, I have a sense of how Battle for Zendikar ends, with Ulamog locked in the Hedrons again and the others on the loose, but I really don’t know what Nissa’s role is other than getting her groove back, and how does Ob Nixilis regain his spark? Also, Gideon’s helping out for some reason? I don’t care enough to go hunting for this information, but show me a neat little 5-10 minute animated feature on it and I’d sit through it at least the first time I see it . . . and if it’s good, I’ll sit through it whenever it comes up.


I can’t say the same for watching the main coverage team tease one another.


Active engagement is the name of the game, and watching a person play Magic offers that. Watching two charming dudes talk about Magic, on the other hand, knowing that they are explicitly filling time . . . that’s not active engagement, at least not for me. There should be a place for that, absolutely, but there should also be a content stream aimed at people like me, who want the freedom to be able to drop in, watch some Magic, and then go off and do something else for a while secure in the knowledge that there will be Magic playing when I return. That’s currently not the case, and it feels like a lost opportunity to me.


Jess Stirba is the last living member of Vault 11, this Halloween.

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