The Changing Landscape of Magic: The Gathering

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2020 has been a strange year that will forever change society as we know it. The entire landscape of our future has been altered by the COVID-19 Pandemic in ways both large and small. I don't think there are many industries that haven't been affected, but as a Magic: The Gathering player, writer, and video maker I have been spending a lot of time thinking about what the future of my beloved game is.

I've been writing about preparing to return to paper Magic for a while, and while I don't think there is any way for paper Magic to disappear completely, I do think that the future landscape of the game will be changed enough that both Magic players and those who exist only in the MTG Finance realm will need to plan and adapt accordingly.

The “Arena Pro” and the Digital Age

With the spread of the Pandemic came a mass cancellation from Wizards of the Coast of all paper events, from the major MagicFests all the way down to any sanctioned event at local game stores. With this came what felt like an even bigger push towards supporting and advertising Magic Arena. There have been large, Arena-based tournaments, a bigger emphasis on advertising the Wizards Creator Program and it’s members, as well as options for Local Game Stores to award Arena-based rewards with preorders and in-lieu of actual, in-person FNM events.

This new emphasis on advertising and supporting Arena, along with it being one of the few ways to still be safely playing Magic, has created a new class of online personality I like to call the “Arena Pro.” Where we once had articles, decklists, and tournament results were centered around the professional players and “grinders” that traveled around the world playing in events, now the online Magic space is dominated by Arena streamers and content creators.

Twitch streamers and YouTube creators like Bloody, JdoubleR2, MTGNerdGirl, Crokeyz, Merchant, and plenty of others have risen to prominence over the course of Arena's lifespan. These creators have been producing quality Arena-centered content, playing in big digital tournaments, and even being invited to case large tournaments by the Arena team.

What about all of the players whose main focus had been traveling to paper events? The players who had for so long been driving the sales of competitive cards based on their performances in large cash tournaments across the world?

Some of them were already streaming MTGO and Arena (Jim Davis, in particular, puts out lots of great streaming content in both online platforms, and has been doing so long before the Pandemic) and some have jumped into the digital-only world with open arms. It seems like other prominent tournament grinders haven't taken to it quite the same way, and there was even briefly Twitter conflict centered around the idea that consistently reaching high-ranked Mythic in Arena and placing highly in digital-only tournaments was less impressive than grinding and doing well in paper Magic tournaments (for the record, I think that both things take an immense amount of skill and that the Twitter shade-throwing was silly - but it did result in the term "paper-boomer" being coined, which I find amusing.)

You might be asking yourself what the point of all of this is - this being an MTG Finance website and all. Well, with the future of Magic changing so drastically, so is the financial market for cards. The prices of cards in the Standard, Modern, and Legacy formats have always ebbed and flowed based on what was competitively playable (or had major casual player appeal), and players found the data on those cards based upon paper tournament results and articles being written by the paper Magic players and competitive deck brewers who were involved in that world. Speculation based on paper tournament results was a common avenue to partake in for MTG finance, but with the landscape of competitive Magic evolving like it is, we will also have to adapt our methods for evaluating potential card speculations.

Adapting to the New Normal

With the new wealth of popular Magic players and the widespread adoption of digital, Arena-based tournaments there's more tournament data floating around than ever, more constant discussion of competitive Magic on social media platforms, and some people would argue a much quicker "solving" of formats. As a player concerned with the future of MTG Finance, you'll need to consider where you think the future of competitive Magic is going to land, and act accordingly. Do you think competitive paper Magic will be largely extinct post Pandemic? Then it's probably a smart idea to trade into Reserved List and EDH staples only. Personally, I believe that if we can successfully "beat" COVID-19 and get to a place where the majority of the world can safely gather in large groups again, paper Magic will come back full force.

We'll never go back to a mostly paper-only world like we were living in before the boom in popularity of Arena. The ease of access for players is too easy to ignore, and there's no way Hasbro is going to just lay such a profitable venture aside and focus all of their efforts back into promoting paper product. However, people are going to want to play in paper tournaments again, I don't think there's any doubt about that. I imagine that the first MagicFest after the Pandemic is going to be quite a grand affair, whatever shape that it ends up taking.

When this happens, old veterans of the paper Magic world will need to be picking up new cards for the new formats, all of the new players who have become interested in the game via playing Arena during quarantine are going to want to try out real paper tournaments, and all of the shops and vendors who survived the slump in business during the pandemic are going to jump at the chance to cater to these player bases. Where are all of these players going to look for the best decklists and cards to pick up for their decks? The Arena-pros, and the new culture of competitive Mythic-level Arena grinders who are constantly sharing lists and data online.

So if you're a speculator who wants to keep on top of the fast-moving trends of the competitive Magic scene, I'd recommend you familiarize yourself with the people who are consistently putting out popular competitive Magic content right now. Follow the players on Twitter, keep an eye on their streams and YouTube videos, and dig into all of the Standard tournaments that are being played in Arena right now. When paper Magic comes back in force, those are going to be the sources to keep an eye on when thinking about potential speculation targets at first, and likely far into the future of the game.

In the meantime, I still think it's a great idea to be taking advantage of the low prices we're seeing for competitive Modern staples and stocking up on cards that will be in demand again once we're allowed to sit down across from other players in a large, competitive event again.

Well, that's all for this week folks! How have you been holding up during the Pandemic? Have you been playing any Arena? What have you been targeting lately for your personal speculation boxes? Feel free to reach out to me in the QS Discord, Twitter, or YouTube anytime. If you'd like to chat live, I stream on Twitch every Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday and would love to chat while I jam some games. Take care of yourselves out there, I'll see you next week!

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