The World Magic cup, as it exists today, began in 2012 when the teams from 71 nations descended upon Indianapolis for the event hosted at Gen Con. The format was fresh and the community was excited. Sure, many were sad to see the old National championships disappear, especially with the pro points they offered, but it was time for a change. Chinese Taipei walked away from Indianapolis as the champions of that first event.

We’ve now had five World Magic Cup tournaments and it’s a good time to look at where we’ve been and where we should be heading. In five years we’ve been to Indianapolis (2012), Amsterdam (2013), Nice (2014), Barcelona (2015), and Rotterdam (2016). The winning teams have been, in chronological order, Chinese Taipei, France, Denmark, Italy, and Greece. The event has gone from being a standalone tournament to being conjoined to the World Championship and back to being a standalone tournament.

The event has even grown a bit, from 71 teams in Indianapolis in 2012 to 73 teams in Rotterdam this year. As Magic grows globally, so does the World Magic Cup. But now that we’ve had this event for five years, a casual fan of competitive Magic couldn’t be faulted for asking whether or not the most prestigious team Magic tournament in the world is having the desired impact on the growth of the global game.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the whole point of having the World Magic Cup is to attract more people to the wide world of Magic the Gathering. The Grand Prix and Pro Tour circuit serve a very similar function for Wizards of the Coast. They attract people to the prestige and glamour of competition. While it’s true that only a very, very small fraction of people who play Magic will ever make the trek to a Grand Prix, let alone qualify for the Pro Tour, it’s still a very potent marketing tool.

However, when it comes to the global game, the Pro Tour isn’t necessarily the best vehicle for promoting the game. There are fewer preliminary pro tour qualifiers outside of North America than within. There are fewer Grand Prix events. Travel throughout the rest of the world is certainly more difficult than travel within the continental United States or travel within the European Union. So while the Pro Tour has helped the game explode in North America, it may not be having the same effect on the rest of the world.

In Hasbro’s 2011 Annual Report they told investors that, “We must focus our development and marketing resources on select gaming brands that we view as having the greatest global potential. An example of the successful execution of this approach is MAGIC: THE GATHERING. The team at Wizards of the Coast has done a tremendous job of taking this brand, which totaled less than $100 million in revenues in 2008 and was declining, to where it is today – the largest brand in our Games and Puzzles category, the largest game brand in the U.S. and more than double its size versus just three years ago.”

Reading Hasbro’s recent annual reports shows a consistent trend in their desire to grow the game globally in order to reach markets where they can sell more Magic cards. Annual reports from 2014 and 2015 also claim growth in Magic’s international revenue, though the overall numbers are not broken down by brand. Prior to the 2011 Annual Report linked above, there is no mention of Magic in the same breath as Hasbro’s global market expansion. Up until 2011, it seems Hasbro was entirely focused on Magic as a brand for the United States and Canada. The timing of this shift in strategy and the birth of the modern incarnation of the World Magic Cup certainly imply a correlation if not a direct causation.

Five years is enough time to thoroughly evaluate the modern World Magic Cup and if Hasbro truly wants to grow the game globally they must surely do so. Pouring through the event coverage of these tournaments and looking outside of Magic for inspiration, there are two key places where Wizards of the Coast should look to improve moving forwards. These changes are too broad in scope for the 2017 World Magic Cup, but 2018 is right around the corner.

First, 70+ nations is too many to invite to a single tournament. The logic here shouldn’t be a huge stretch of the imagination and we don’t have to look outside of Magic for our inspiration. The World Championship of Magic is currently a 24-player elite event. In 2012 and 2013 it was an even more exclusive 16-player tournament. The 2011 World Championship, the last of the old style of events, by comparison invited 375 players. It didn’t take rocket science to figure out that fans were far more invested in the smaller event, especially from a coverage perspective.

Covering 70 teams is difficult. Covering 16 is not. As a fan, following the stories of 70 teams is difficult. Following 16 is not. The World Magic Cup needs to be divided into four tournaments instead of a single massive event. The top tier would consist of the nations deemed to be most proficient at Magic. They would meet at the annual World Magic Cup to determine which nation is the best at Magic. The structure would be similar to today with group play followed by a bracketed playoff.

There are more benefits to this structure than just the ease of coverage and storytelling. There’s more at stake. Multiple tiers of competition easily lends itself to a system of relegation and promotion. So now the World Magic Cup not only involves high stakes for the winners competing for cash and pro points, but it involves high stakes for the teams at the bottom fighting to avoid being relegating out of the following year’s World Cup.

At the same time, teams in the lower divisions will have their own independent tournaments which will allow them to be featured more prominently by not having to compete for air time with 70 other teams. Also, the prize of promotion to a higher division tournament, one with assuredly higher cash prizes, creates a bigger goal to aim for. Finishing 25th at the World Magic Cup for example isn’t going to excite the fans of anyone’s home nation. Finishing first in the World Magic Division I Championship and getting promoted to the following year’s big show is going to be a huge feel-good moment for countries working to grow the game locally.

After all, the goal you have to keep in mind is growing the game across the globe. Chinese Taipei shocked the world by winning the first World Magic Cup but since then the winners have all been fairly large European nations. While its thrilling when teams like Estonia and Serbia make the top 8 of this event, it would be more thrilling to establish international rivalries, tournaments with more interesting stakes, and a circuit of events that fans of the game around the world can follow, facilitating their growth from being fans to being players to being part of Hasbro’s global growth strategy.

There is one other improvement I think Wizards should strongly consider implementing as soon as humanly possible. The World Magic Cup needs to be a best-on-best tournament. The current format of having three team members determined by single-player qualifier tournaments, and then having them join the country’s top-ranked pro player as captain, may work for some countries but it almost certainly has continued to fail certainly countries, especially the United States.

Now, hear me out on this one, because this isn’t going to be a rant about how my home country always loses this tournament. I don’t care about that. In fact it’s a good thing when America loses. International competition needs international rivalry and it needs to establish who the top nations are. Otherwise you can’t have an underdog and underdogs are what make international competition so compelling, especially for American consumers. Imagine the FIFA World Cup with the bullseye targets we paint on Brazil and Argentina. Imagine the 1980 Miracle on Ice if the Soviets weren’t a powerhouse of international ice hockey. Olympic basketball is every country’s opportunity to stick it to the Americans.

The World Magic Cup doesn’t have a villain. It doesn’t even have any rivalries, geographic, geopolitical, or otherwise. The underdogs are defined not by their proficiency at Magic but by their general economic status among world powers. These two proposed changes could fix all of that. Make the tournaments smaller to promote rivalry and raise the stakes allowing for more engaging experiences for the fans. Allow every country to work out how to send its best players so that everyone knows that we’re here to figure out which country is actually the best at Magic in a given year.

I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know how to determine who the best players are in America let alone places like Chinese Taipei or Panama. I don’t know if divisions of 8 teams or 16 teams would be more successful. All I know is that the World Magic Cup needs to become the pinnacle of international Magic competition if it’s going to become a fully-powered vessel for growing the global game. And the only way that’s going to happen is if fans and casual players start paying a lot more attention to it, and investing a lot more of themselves emotionally into the tournament each year.

Wizards can do this and the World Magic Cup can become something we talk about all year round, not just for 20 days in November.

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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