Last week, I wrote an article about the trading card game Magic: The Gathering noting its relation to the realms of art, narrative, math, and poetry, as well as attempting to introduce the deceptively complex game to the uninformed. Since then, a controversy has erupted in the Magic world surrounding a shiny version of the card called Tarmogoyf.
Pascal Maynard was one of the last eight players standing in one of the largest tournaments in Magic history. He was playing in a format called draft, where players open fifteen-card booster packs and take one card, then pass to the left and take one card from the pack that’s just been handed to them, and so on until all the packs is gone. Then, each of the players builds a deck from the cards that player chose. Pascal was on his second pack and had already decided his deck was going to be red, white, angry, and holy. It would be filled with burn spells and small, inexpensive creatures. It would be bent on speed and aggression. In the pack he opened, there was a card called burst lightning:
This card would have been great for his deck—a cheap spell to pick off early blockers or shoot down larger ones in the later game so that his small creatures could power through.
But, in that same pack, there was also a green card called Tarmogoyf. It is the rarest card in its set, and on top that, this was the shiny holographic “foil” version. At one of the nearby folding plastic tables, he could sell this card for about $300 cash.
Pascal picks the Goyf. The rest is history.
The first place winnings in this particular tournament were only $4,000, so he made the gut-based, split-second decision to take the Goyf as guaranteed money–on top of which he could still potentially win. As a professional player, he was struggling with money for one reason or another, and this would help him afford to continue attending tournaments. He lost the tournament, though, largely because he did not have the Burst Lighting at certain critical times. Losing the tournament hurt his contention for the world championships and platinum status, the most elite status a player can reach, the Magic equivalent of an art grant, covering the costs of room, board and attendance to all the top tournaments for a year, in addition to other benefits.
Immediately after Pascal made the pick, the community of professional Magic: The Gathering players erupted with rage.
The loudest protesters were the Peach Garden Oath, otherwise known as Reid Duke, Owen Turtenwald, and Huey Jensen. The three players are best friends, play on the same team, and are largely considered to be among the best players in the world.
I’ve devoted my life to Magic. It’s very disappointing to see that one of my peers would sell out for so little.
—Reid Duke (@ReidDuke) Twitter post, June 1, 2015
You disgust me. @PascalMaynard #GPVegas
—Owen Turtenwald (@OwenTweetenwald) Twitter post, June 1, 2015
I just lost all respect for Pascal Maynard.
—William Jensen (@HueyJensen) Twitter post, June 1, 2015
This initial backlash was met with an explosion of hate from the casual Magic: The Gathering community, who supported Pascal’s actions.
Turtenwald and others have since apologized on all the rage networks (Twitter, Facebook, Reddit), and all apologies were accepted except Turtenwald’s, who has since been singled out as a bully due to previous incendiary remarks he made on Twitter.
I think my familiarity with the tight-knit system of passionate, underpaid thinkers commonly referred to as “the poetry world,” and my addiction to coverage of Magic, makes me want to put in my two cents. Let it be said first that this micro-controversy is dwarfed in comparison to the recent conceptual minstrelsy that mocks slavery and the slaughter of innocent black men by police officers. We can only hope that Ken Chen’s recent tour-de-force article laid the last crushing blow against conceptualism’s bigoted king and queen.
I’m not here to make judgments against people I have never met (although I will say I’ve known Reid Duke since he was a child, and he is a knight), but as a casual player and vigilant spectator, I would like to say I support Owen Turtenwald and, by extension, the other pros in their criticism of Pascal Maynard.
It begins with a respect for the deep math that governs this game. Poets understand this respect. The rage at the conceptual poets’ actions—beyond the obvious racism—comes from the fact that they do not respect poetry, or the English language, but care only for their own notoriety and fame. The apex of this rage can be found in the mysterious collective, The Mongrel Coaltion Against Gringpo.
The rage at Pascal Maynard comes from a love for the game, just as The Mongrel Coalition’s comes from a love for poetry. This is a small world we are talking about. Everyone sees everyone else’s actions and reflects those actions: people copy decks, strategies, sideboard choices, rulings, and behaviors based on what they see the professionals doing in livestreams and on social media.
By picking the Goyf, Pascal was legitimizing rare-drafting—which, even in the casual player’s Friday Night Magic, is largely considered to be bad form. It means you are taking a rare card over the card you need for your deck. Many players in Pascal’s tournament were doing this already—taking the Goyf and leaving the tournament because it was worth more to them (financially or otherwise) than playing out the day.
It reveals a lot of structural flaws in the evaluations and internal economy of the game when things like this happen. To add to the many bizarre interactions this incident spawned, Pascal later sold the Goyf (on the back of his image as a bullied pro) for $15,000 and donated half to Gamers Helping Gamers, a charity organization that helps gamers pay for college.
This is just one reason why it is not exactly popular to come out as a critic of Pascal’s actions. That, and I believe our generation—yuppies, hipsters, Magic players alike—are dominated by a get-off-my lawn libertarian ideology that says we should let other people do what they want to do as individuals. To be fair, there is also a resurgent idealism and collectivist antagonism coming from people like The Mongrel Coalition Against Gringpo, the Occupiers, and the Black Lives Matter movement that says the opposite: condemn, repeal, tear down, end.
I tend to sympathize with the latter view. Imagine for a moment that you spend every waking moment thinking about one game, be it chess, poker, or Magic: The Gathering. You get the point where see statistics humming within all things. Everything is bet, gamble, rake, checkmate, memorized moves, mana base, spells.
Then, someone comes along and violates this code of logic. They make an error, admit that they made an error (as Pascal did shortly afterward); but somehow, the community as a whole comes out thinking that what the person did was correct. They think that because they can relate to the faulty choice. They can relate to financial need over strategic choice. And perhaps the real takeaway is that, to dissuade this kind of behavior, Magic tournaments should have a better payout.
I hope for a world where $ prizes are such that no one even considers picking a 1000$ card #anotherangle #teamburstlightning #thankspascal
—Alexander Hayne (@InsayneHayne) Twitter post, June 1, 2015
In all, as strange as it may sound, when the devoted players reacted with disgust at Pascal’s actions, it came from a place of love. Truly, I don’t hyperbolize when I say that some of these players think about good Magic strategy in the way that Federico Garcia Lorca thinks about Duende or Robert Duncan talks about Anima Mundi or the World Soul. And any disruption of that grand network, internal and external, that causes the hive to diverge from the path toward winning or considering Magic in its purest, simplest terms violates that code. And in some circumstances, this violation is worthy of condemnation.