What We Learned—Spoiled Meat (Jan. 11)

Hello reader! What We Learned is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast. The goal is to take some of the events and articles polluting the Magic world, strip out the chaff (tournament reports, game theory, economics) and give you our superior opinion. Complaints are encouraged.

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Well, Return to Ravnica has been out for what feels like roughly a century by now. I can’t even recall what it felt like to see the old shock lands reprinted for the first time. Or the look on people’s faces at PAX East at the end of the Avacyn Restored spoiler slideshow which ended with an image of Jace and Niv-Mizzet and the words “Return to Ravnica – Fall 2012.” Was it really only three months ago? What have I been doing with my life?

Does this sound like you or someone you know four times a year approximately two months after a set releases? If so then you are Wizards’ target audience for spoiler season. For most Magic players this is the mystical Christmas that comes four times a year and lasts for weeks leading up to the release of the new expansion. For others it is a painful time of suffering in which they attempt to tune out all of the noise and static. After all, they wouldn’t be called spoilers if they weren’t spoiling something and that thing is the surprise and wonder of the unknown.

But who cares? I want to see new shiny Magic cards and so do you. Wizards has continually improved the way in which they introduce the world to what is lying just on the horizon. On New Year’s Day in 2007 Wizards spoiled the time-shifted theme from Planar Chaos in grand fashion. If you went to dailymtg.com on that day you were greeted with a large hi-resolution of the Tenth Edition Wrath of God. Stay long enough, maybe 30 seconds, and watch as it slowly transformed from Wrath of God into Damnation.

Mind. Blown.

There was a time when spoilers were widely regarded as something to be avoided. People wanted to be wowed at the pre-release, or whenever the first time they’d open the new cards was. Then came the rumor mill over at MTG Salvation and things were chaotic. Spoilers came out almost constantly in the weeks leading up to a set. Accuracy was always a concern. There was once a fun tool on Wizards website into which you could put any word and it would tell you how many times that word appeared in the names and rules text of the new set. It was a chaotic world but it was the birth of something special.

Today we’ve come quite far and for a good reason. In the infancy of the “spoiler season” Wizards had little to no control over the dissemination of information about their own product. They were losing out on potential marketing opportunities and that was simply unacceptable. Where the weeks leading up to the release of sets in Time Spiral and Lorwyn block were full of unknowns and spontaneous revelations, the weeks leading up to Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash have been structured and predictable.

Spoiler season always included the preview cards given to writers at the mothership. This remains the backbone of the festivities but it’s the extra events that have turned this once chaotic revelry into an opportunity for Wizards to truly showcase the new expansion.

The first key was expanding spoilers outside of places that are controlled by our benevolent overlords. By handing out spoiler cards to places like StarCity, ChannelFireball and so on, Wizards has turned spoilers into something they provide into a community-wide celebration. No longer are spoilers confined to the rumor mill and the mothership, but now they’re in your podcasts, your Magic Shows, your tweets, and so on. They’re nearly inescapable because they have become a part of the culture.

The second key was timing. Cards used to be leaked haphazardly without rhyme or reason and ended up all over the internet causing confusion and uncertainty. Now, they are tied to the release calendar and the event calendar and operate almost like clockwork. This makes it an event that people can count on and that makes it more enjoyable for everyone involved.

The final key is the big events. I’m talking about the Magic party at PAX every fall in Seattle. PAX falls in October and has become the launch event for the fall spoiler season. This began in 2009 when the big reveal was Arid Mesa and the confirmed printing of enemy colored fetchlands in Zendikar. The trend continued in 2010 as the world was introduced to the planeswalker version of Venser and the new Elsepth. Things really heated up in 2011 when PAX was used to highlight cards with two sides.

TWO SIDES!

Finally, this past fall opened spoilers with an unforgettable reveal of Hallowed Fountain. The Return to Ravnica, which itself had been announced earlier last year at PAX East, had finally become tangible.

That right there is what makes spoiler season such an important part of the Magic release calendar. An expansion which was previously nothing more than a trademark in the USPTO database suddenly becomes something much more real. Where the festival really shines though is in how Wizards has transformed it from something that was the realm of rumormongers into a community-driven celebration of the game.

If you’re still of the opinion that you prefer to be surprised and dazzled when you first open a new pack from the new set, then that’s your right. You should know though that you are excluding yourself from one of the most exciting community-wide events that will take place all year within the Magic culture.

The Quick Hits

On All the Things: Instead of stealing a bunch of links that Heather Meek put a lot of work into rounding up for you, I’m just going to link to her column every week over at Legit MTG. [Chatter]

On EBay: It looks like the auction mega-site has some competition and Corbin Hosler has all the details. [LegitMTG]

On Judication: Judging is likely the most difficult and most important part of Magic’s successful organized play structure. Jackie Lee has written a solid guide on how to make the most of these pillars of the law. [TCGPlayer]

On Socializing: Darwin Kastle looks at his own experiences with being an introvert and how important networking is for succeeding at Magic. [The Social Network]

On Special Invites/Sponsor Exemptions: Here’s the shocker of the week: people aren’t happy that some people get free invites to the Pro Tour! [Twenty Tweets]

On Sponsor Exemptions/Special Invites: Cedric Philips comes out of semi-retirement to speak his mind on the reaction to the hot topic of the week. [StarCity Games]

On Team Play: Being part of a Magic team is the most fun you can have playing Magic. Mark Nestico gives you a run-down for helping to find/create a team of your own. [TCGPlayer]

The Week Ahead

What will happen to the community when one of the Special Invite or Sponsor Exempt participants wins top prize at a Pro Tour? I have no idea but I expect Twitter will promptly explode.

Signoff

Small things so sad that birds could land

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