Wizards' Most Unfortunate Marketing Error
Every company has a hidden history filled with things they'd rather forget. Take Disney for example; there was a time when Mickey Mouse spent a week gaily trying to commit suicide with a shotgun. Likewise if you dig into the history of Bugs Bunny you'll discover cartoons where Bugs knocks the hell out of buck-toothed "Japs" bent on sabotaging fine American war equipment.
But if you ever want to make a Wizards employee squirm speak the words "1998 Inquest Tournament Guide" in their presence.
"Oh yeah" they'll say looking furtively to one side. "That." And then they'll change the subject so quickly your head will spin. It doesn't matter when they started working for Wizards; this brochure is such a colossal misfire on every level that anyone who's worked there has heard of it. It gets passed around sometimes from old-timers to newbies an unfortunate relic of a time when Magic was only four years old and nobody knew what the heck they were doing.
The tournament guide was actually created in 1997 which Tempest was fresh the DCI was just getting started and Wizards wanted people to be aware that you could play Magic for money and prizes. Thus they called up Inquest — the most popular game magazine and price guide — to co-produce a pamphlet that would introduce people to the wonderful world of sanctioned tournaments.
I found my copy recently. And I thought I'd share.
Now the problem with writing a humor article is that your words have to be funnier than the thing you're parodying. But I can't do it. There is nothing I can say about this that's more comical than the brochure itself which was designed to be hip cool and attractive.
Witness the cover!
I'm not sure how this pamphlet was created but I think the phone call went something like this:
WIZARDS MARKETING GUY: "Hey we've just created this 'DCI' thing but not enough people know about the official tournaments. We're putting up hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money in an attempt to attract new players to the game and we'd like an advertisement that connects with our target market."
INQUEST: "How about a doof in a tuxedo?"
I know what they were trying to do which is to make the point that playing Magic will get you a lot of money. But unfortunately the cover design made the opposite point. Let's take a closer look at the women flanking James Dork 007 here:
Strip away the slinky gowns and makeup and the two girls fawning over Dorkula here are not supermodels but two average-looking summer interns who were pulled off the floor to take part in a photo shoot. "Hey you girls! You're um... women. Can you pretend to be hot for awhile?"
And look at how much money Donald Dork is holding! He's brandishing a fistful of hundred-dollar bills and these are the best girls he can attract to the table. The lesson from this cover is sad: even with three thousand dollars the Magic nerd can't buy the company of model-quality women.
Note the useless addition of poker chips in a pathetic attempt to leech off of poker's mystique coolness and manliness. Unfortunately this is the same logic that goes "If I stand next to this male model his charm will rub off on me and I'll appear more attractive to women!"
In reality the women will look at your sagging gut and then hit on the model. Likewise this faux-poker image reminds people why they play Texas Hold'Em in the first place; to be in a place where geeks like this are summarily escorted out by security.
Also note that he is playing Blackjack with Moxens leading one to wonder how he won the money given that he can't actually play the game. Then you look at the women next to him dressed in slinky dresses and his pile of cash and other less-savory theories begin to present themselves.
This man is secretly the Mack Daddy of the PTQ.
The Juzam Djinn speaks to you at the top of every page dispensing tips and advice. Oh ho ho. It is to laugh.
How come Inquest can make me roll on the floor when they do funny bits with action figures but everything they do with Magic cards is lame? Is there something about Magic that's just inherently unfunny?
One suspects that Inquest wasn't taking this assignment particularly seriously when they had a big red arrow shouting "NON-STOP ACTION!" and it's pointing straight at the guy who's falling asleep on one arm.
As it to make up for their poor choice of photos they also made the image very dark and muddy. This may have been to make Magic appear more multicultural since by turning everyone's skin into a kind of greyish-brown it presents the illusion that minorities were attending this tournament. Or perhaps it's just because viewing Magic players without some sort of protective filter could blind the unwary viewer thus encouraging lawsuits.
The funny thing is that I remember when the DCI was first created all my friends scoffed and said "Who the hell would pay $30 to join the stupid DCI?" Well if you look at what you got it would consist of the following items:
1 Italian Legends Booster pack currently valued at $22.49;
1 DCI Counterspell currently valued at $10.00;
1 DCI Incinerate currently valued at $3.00;
1 Deck of Magic playing cards which I've seen going for up to $10 at conventions.
Okay we were idiots.
This is Inquest's description of Type 1 players the most competitive and feared group of people on the planet. In 1998 the Vintage players were the army of T-1000s rampaging across the planet across the Extended players (described as "Casual") and the Standard players (who were so trivial Inquest didn't even bother to rank them). Yet by 2004 the Vintage players had degenerated into a bunch of guys who whined a lot about how Wizards was designing their decks for them and how they hated all the netdecking.
This is what happens to you when Wizards ceases to sanction your format. You become pale and flabby (well paler and flabbier) and in the absence of real competition you become erratically convinced that your amazing Saproling Cluster deck really is the best deck in the format. Now after eighteen months of pulse-pounding competition Type 1 is just as unplayably-filled with the same stupidly-fast decks and the tedious sameness that Extended and Standard have! Your pathetic attempts to "break the metagame" will now be pounded relentlessly by decks you didn't build by players not really good enough to play them just like every other format.
Sanctioning: it builds humility.
Ah yes; whenever a card is banned from a given format I always go and tear them up instantly so as not to taint my collection with substandard cards. My dining room is coated with the shreds of tattered Skullclamps.
Savor the amazing tech from 1998! This is where Oscar Tan got his start.
The funny thing is this is supposedly a metagame run-down for Legacy — sorry "Classic-Restricted" — tournaments where the brochure itself states "Finding Classic-Restricted tournaments can be difficult" and "...Classic Standard (Type II) and Extended tournaments are more popular." Which given the fact that they didn't give a metagame overview for any of the popular formats why did they bother to do it for Legacy which took a Grand Prix in 2005 to get anyone to pay attention to it?
I just picture Wizards slipping Inquest a $50 under the table. "Here. Nobody's paying attention to this format. Make up a metagame for it."
More classic tech from 1998: remember when Kird Ape was so feared that a 2/3 vanilla creature had to be banned because it was distorting the format?
Yeah me neither.
...not that obscure. Not even then.
Back in 1998 large towers of Magic cards would just suddenly appear out of nowhere like crop circles. At which point Magic players would congregate around them in fear and awe gibbering occasionally before they smashed each other over the head with the thighbone of a leopard. Then they would throw the bone into the air to the tune of "Thus Sprach Zarathrustra."
Unfortunately for those who dared to touch the card towers they were all Fallen Empires cards.
The arrow pointing at this gentleman says "THE ENEMY. An example of what you'll face in tournament play. You have been warned."
Remember this was supposed to be an introduction to professional Magic designed to lure new players in to PTQs. And yet the photo here clearly states "Should you go to a tournament you will face a man who has stuffed a copy of Donald Trump's book down his shorts so he can hump the back cover between rounds."
What kind of crack were these marketing geniuses smoking? They might as well put a bulletin on the front cover that says "PLAY MAGIC MEET CRAZED SEX OFFENDERS!"
You may be tempted to think that somewhere in this brochure is an explanation as to why this man is carrying a LoJack a Thighmaster and a videocamera. There is not. This picture is presented in its entirety and parts of it still puzzle me. I mean okay I have brought Ring Dings to a tournament. And perhaps I've sat upon a beaded car seat on the way to the tournament though I wasn't foolish enough to bring it inside. And Jolt? Absolutely.
But the videocamera? What the hell is that for? Nobody's ever tried to tape my match and they'd be foolish if they tried. At one point Wizards televised the Pro Tour matches on ESPN 8 ("The Ocho") which was so spectacularly unsuccessful that they had to run the show at 2:00 in the morning on the secondary ESPN station. Eventually ESPN 8 yanked the show off the air and replaced it with a placard that said "INFOMERCIALS WANTED. PLEASE INQUIRE AT THE FRONT DESK."
No wonder too. The productions were so low-budget that they didn't even bother to make it accessible to even casual players. I mean Magic it's full of cards with pretty art; you'd think that they'd have plenty of in-set windows showing "This is a Birds of Paradise" in between plays to make the screen look pretty right?
Nope. The tournaments consisted of two fat guys hunched over a green table while commentary tracks were provided with all the excitement of anesthetized golf announcers. If you didn't know what a Ravenous Rats did when it came into play well that was your damn problem. Nobody would tell you. The show was yanked off the air when it was linked to an outbreak of coma victims each of whom had been lulled into a stupor by the boredom.
Likewise okay the Forgotten Realms book I've read RPG material at a tourney — but what's with the goggles? Is he afraid of viewing Magic players directly lest they burn out his retinas? And the roll of Bounty is distinctly out of place — since while I've seen Magic players foul many a room with their sticky sodas and sugar-laden treats I have yet to see one clean up his own mess in nearly a decade of tournament-watching.
Plus the guy keeps his Magic cards in his shorts. Really. Look and you'll see two cards sticking out over his waistband meaning that the rest of his deck is quietly heating up to body temperature pressed up against freshly-shaven skin. "Shuffle them" he whispers in a gap-toothed purr. "Now shuffle them again. Touch the edges. Oh that's hot."
I am not sure what the golden circular object he is holding out to you is but I'm pretty sure it's an engagement ring.
Maybe I do know what the Bounty is for.