It’s become a bit of a meme this week to jokingly say, “the Pandemic is over,” echoing the words of President Biden’s remarks on the episode of 60 Minutes that aired on Sep 18th. With vaccines widely available, mask rates have dropped and indoor gatherings are growing. And that’s also true for the Magic: The Gathering community, especially when it comes to organized play. Or is it?

This past weekend saw the final slate of events in the (deep breath) first cycle of the 2022-23 Regional Championship Qualifiers (RCQs). By most accounts these events were fairly well-attended. In some ways it felt just like the good old days. Head to the local qualifier and hope to spike it for a trip to the Pro Tour Dreamhack Atlanta. Okay, some things have changed. Regardless, players across the world attended qualifier events in hopes of securing a spot at their Regional Championship.

This past weekend also saw the first Arena Championship of the 2022-23 season, which invited 32 players to share a prize pool of $200,000 plus two invitations directly to World Championship XXIX to be held in late 2023 somewhere in the United States. Sam Rolph took home the top prize of $30,000 and you can read more about that over on Wizard’s coverage site.

While some of the play was in-person and some of the play was digital, all of the play led to large-scale, major, in-person competitive play. The RCQ’s lead to their Regional Championships, which for those of us in the United States means Dreamhack Atlanta in November. The Arena Champs will send two players to the World Championship. All roads lead to in-person gatherings and that brings us to the crux of the main question: Is the Pandemic Over for Magic: The Gathering?

The answers can be found at an upcoming event in Las Vegas titled Magic 30. In a little over a month, fans will descend upon the entertainment capital of Las Vegas to attend the first Magic convention-level event since the beginning of the Pandemic a little over 30 months ago. The event offered one-day and weekend badges, all of which are now sold out except for presumably a limited number of Sunday badges.

One of the core reasons why President Biden felt comfortable stating that the Covid-19 pandemic is in our rear-view mirror now is because it seems like so many Americans have decided to go back to living their lives the way they did prior to March of 2020. This summer was the summer to vacation, as evidenced by myriad news reports of delays and canceled flights across the nation. And now, Magic fans, in the United States at least, have also seemingly decided the pandemic is behind them and the time is ripe to descend on Magic 30.

Or is it?

Wizards of the Coast has absolutely erred on the side of caution with their health and safety protocols for Magic 30. (Please note this discussion is based on the version of these protocols that was posted on August 8th, 2022.) Masks will be required for all attendees as will proof of either vaccination or a recent negative Covid test. That’s more strict than my daughter’s public elementary school. In fact, with mask mandates being dropped in most public settings, in favor of proof-of-vaccination rules, attendees of Magic 30 may feel a bit like they’ve traveled back in time to earlier this year when mask mandates were still commonplace.

These stricter rules are certainly a factor in anyone’s decision to attend the event, and in full disclosure was one of the only reasons we felt comfortable sending two of our writers to cover the event as well. And while there will certainly be some people who decide that they don’t want anything to do with an event that still mandates masks, I think most of the community can appreciate the decision to err on the side of caution when it comes to the health and well-being of our friends, families, and other convention attendees.

Roughly a year ago when vaccines became available for children over five years old, it began to finally feel like the pandemic was over for a lot of families. The Delta variant was burnt out and children were returning to school classrooms after a year or more away. But some people, like myself, who have children under five years old, didn’t feel that way. The pandemic was still very real. There was no vaccine for our families. Masks were an absolute necessity as was social distancing and avoiding indoor dining or any indoor social gathering for that matter.

Today our children are fully vaccinated and every member of our household has now survived Covid personally. But is the pandemic over? My mother-in-law is a former kidney donor, so while she’s vaccinated she is also immunocompromised and if she were to contract Covid, something she thankfully has not yet, she wouldn’t be able to take a full dose of anti-virals, like I was able to, to fight the virus.

The Magic community, like many gaming communities, is going to be a very common place for those with health problems that can lead to issues with vaccines and medicine. This can range from those of us who may have been asthmatic and opted to learn a competitive card game instead of a physical competitive sport, to those of us who have had to deal with conditions like juvenile diabetes, a manageable illness but still one that can leave a person in a state of uncertainty when it comes to new vaccines or medicines.

When we sit down at the table to play our randomly assigned opponent for round whatever we often don’t know who they are, where they come from, or what battles they’ve been fighting. And while maybe our pandemic is in the rear-view theirs is very much with them every day.

There’s no answer to the question, “Is the Pandemic over for Magic: The Gathering” because the answer is going to vary for each individual. But if we want organized play and conventions to return, safely, in a way that welcomes back the entire community, then we all need to do our part to understand that not everyone’s fight with Covid is over. So wear a mask, stay six feet away when possible, and enjoy the return of paper Magic events.

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