This may come as a shock to some, but there was never a point where competitive Magic was at the forefront. 

Back in the 2010s, when the SCG Open Series, combined with TCG player events, Grand Prixs, and multitudes of qualifiers, Invitationals, and the like, sprawled all over the country, it was a great time to play competitively. Multiple circuits were rewarding grinders and pro players alike, while also giving other players the opportunity to just play Magic. Events were filled to the brim, and there really was no better time to sink your teeth into competitive formats.

But it didn’t last. Why?

Well, for starters, the pandemic sent anything and everything tabletop related to a screeching and abrupt halt, for years. There was no way to safely go out and jam games. For companies, there was no safe way of doing it until a couple of years down the line. Even then, “safely”, is a pretty loose operator here. Even before the pandemic, we saw quite a big shift in the popularity of casual formats. Commander has been popular since its inception, and only grew as more and more powerful cards were released.

The advent of Commander specific products sealed the deal for the format, and I don’t think it slowed down since. I distinctly remember meeting an entire group of people, maybe 20 or so at SCG Dallas, and they had zero interest in playing any of the main events. They came specifically to play Commander, and they spent all weekend doing just that. Back here in NYC, the Atrium was one of the most well known places to play. From grinders getting ready for their next event, to traders just looking to get some hot cards. The most popular thing to do there, by a mile, was play Commander. It wasn’t particularly close, either.

Today, many hubs and companies have made a hard shift towards casual content, and for good reason. Competitive formats just aren’t worth supporting anymore. I don’t really have the knowledge to argue they ever were worth it, but from the outside looking in, the popularity of casual formats and players was so high. The only thing missing was a trigger to set the whole thing off. I guess the pandemic was exactly that. 

Nowadays, you see events like SCGCon, Commandfest, and the like. They’re always packed and selling out, and within them, the competitive events are now the side events. I think that this is the future of the game. Whether I actually like it or not doesn’t actually matter, really.

One thing I would never do, however, is place blame on the casual formats for competitive’s decline. They were always here, and it would be foolish of me to bite the hand that quite literally feeds our game. If I were a company, I would absolutely put more effort towards the players giving me money (Blah blah corporate blah blah capitalism I know I know). Saying that it’s their fault is not something that makes sense. 

Now, how to bring competitive “back”, is the most interesting question to me. I think my first order of business is to make it a point to sell out each and every competitive event within these Cons. “Showing up” is always a strategy that works, and they’ll know that there’s interest. Additionally, perhaps figuring out why lapsed competitive players don’t travel anymore may be of help. I know I don’t travel because, well, it’s expensive, both in time and money. Spending hundreds of dollars on decks and travel costs, just to maybe have a shot at qualifying for an event doesn’t feel worth it for a grinder.

I’m over the survivorship bias schtick that I fell for, for almost a decade.

I want my trip to be worth it somehow, and aside from seeing some long time friends, what else is there? Walking around an event hall for hours on end in between rounds is not fun, and if I’m going to go, I’d rather play Commander all day and have a blast. I don’t really know how to exactly fix the issue, other than making entry fees cheaper (which won’t happen for obvious reasons), and figuring out ways to make travel cheaper for everyone (which is easier said than done). 

Even if things change in competitive Magic’s favor, I don’t think it’ll ever be the same as it was before, and that’s okay. Competing can mean a lot of different things for different players, but accepting it isn’t the big spectacle it once was is the first step towards trying to better the scene overall.

Anthony Lowry (they/he) is a seasoned TCG, MMORPG, and FPS veteran. They are extensively knowledgeable on the intricacies of many competitive outlets, and are always looking for a new challenge in the gaming sphere.

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