Earlier this year, I worried there was too much stuff launching for Magic: The Gathering in 2022. In particular, I pointed out that the last few months of the year would be chaos, with Dominaria United, Unfinity, Brothers’ War, and Jumpstart 2022 all scheduled to launch within a three-month gap. I knew it was going to be hectic, but barely halfway through the quarter from hell, myself and many other Magic content creators of all kinds are beginning to feel like we’ve been caught in a multi-car pileup.
As Magic begins its 30th anniversary celebrations, the community’s content creators – its writers, journalists, streamers, YouTubers, podcasters, and critics – shouldn’t be feeling this exhausted. At a time when Magic should be building up the hype and getting everyone energised for one of its biggest years ever, Wizards of the Coast has completely drained the well of enthusiasm dry, and drastic, immediate action needs to happen if it wants to keep people in the space.
To put things into perspective, in the last two months, Magic has done four preview seasons: Dominaria United, Warhammer 40,000, Unfinity, and Alchemy: Dominaria. Preview seasons are hard work. Most of my time during them is spent collating the cards as they’re revealed and formatting them into our daily roundups. Just one day of previews can take up to six hours to do on a busy day (on top of everything else that’s involved in working at a website like TheGamer, or TCGPlayer, or Star City Games), and with eight of them in a row it’s often a case of forgoing the weekend.
One preview season can be a slog, but three in a row was knackering. Dominaria United’s led into the launch, which immediately led into Warhammer 40,000, which immediately led into Unfinity. Scott Cullen, Card Kingdom writer and co-host of the BM Cast, explains the impact of these back-to-back previews. “A well-paced, steady product timeline is useful for creators and their consistency, but a crowded one forces an ultimatum on their commitment: keep going and burn out, or stop. The idea of just leaving the content game then starts to look very appealing.”
Had it just been three preview seasons, we would’ve managed. Unfortunately, in that same two months, Wizards has had at least 18 other reveals, including Phyrexia: All Will Be One, March of the Machine, March of the Machine Aftermath, Wilds of Eldraine, Lost Caverns of Ixalan, crossovers with Transformers, Doctor Who, Assassin’s Creed, Final Fantasy, and Post Malone, first looks at The Brothers’ War and Dominaria Remastered, retro-framed Commander decks, retro-framed artifact reprints, Starter Commander decks, Shadows Over Innistrad Remastered, the 30th Anniversary Countdown Kit, and the $999 30th Anniversary Edition collection. On top of the endless flow of preview seasons we’ve had enough news that, in other years, would have filled out the entire calendar.
While a lot of that sounds like small-potatoes, content creators don’t get to turn off. To us, a retro-framed commander deck is as big as an entire set reveal, because it’s the thing that commands your attention there and then. “We in the content space don't have the luxury to ignore a release if it isn't to our personal taste,” Emma Partlow, content editor at TCGPlayer and member of the Pauper Format Panel, tells me. “The second you start earning regular money from something that was once your hobby, it is now your job. Your ability to switch off over certain product releases if they aren't to your own personal preference (like me with Unfinity, for example) is now impossible.”
This can all be written off as people who are in the lucky position of talking about their favourite games for a living bitching about having to do their jobs. However, for a game that puts as much focus on ‘the gathering’ as Magic does, this unending torrent of stuff isn’t just impacting the creators, it’s also preventing them from making the content they want to produce.
In any other game, an expansion that launched in July would feel new, but Double Masters 2022 is ancient history. As the editor who approves most of the Magic coverage you see on TheGamer, I wouldn’t dream of running any Baldur’s Gate stuff now, despite it launching only four months ago. The community has not ‘moved on’ from these sets; it’s been stuffed into the back of a van and forcibly driven by Wizards to the next big thing. The schedule dictates what we can devote our time to.
Chase ‘ManaCurves’ Carroll, streamer and Star City Games writer, says it is, “saddening that a set that came out two or three months ago is now considered old by players and creators alike. I love seeing new sets and product releases but do wish for some time to let the ink dry and let players experience a set before previews for another begins”.
Cullen agrees, saying, “If I ever have a personal idea for a piece of content that I want to make, it feels like it should take a backseat to the previews – there's so much happening at once now, and it'd be unwise as a creator to ignore a new release or preview season.”
Many people argue that it isn’t Wizards’ fault that we’re in the middle of an unending preview season from hell. After all, Unfinity was pushed back from April to October because the glue factory it was working with for its sticker mechanic shut down – all part and parcel of doing business in this post-pandemic hellscape we find ourselves in.
Except Wizards does have options to mitigate the impact, and it chooses to just go full-speed-ahead with full PR blasts for every little thing anyway. Did we need to see Brothers’ War stuff be revealed the day after Unfinity’s preview season had finished? When the response to a preview stream is multiple content creators suddenly revaluating their entire careers, the impetus is on Wizards to just slow the fuck down.
I feel ill. I’ve felt ill since the start of Warhammer 40,000’s previews, but it wasn’t until the 30th Anniversary announcement that it hit me just how ill I feel. We’ve had a year’s worth of content compressed into two months, and it sure does feel like it. The worst part is I’m lucky.
Everyone at TheGamer is supportive and always willing to get stuck in when I rock up and say, “we need to cover this Magic thing please”, which helps spread the load out considerably. So many creators work either individually or in much smaller teams, and they’ve had the exact same deluge to work with. As Partlow puts it, “In many cases, there's one person in a given outlet who will carry the TCG/Magic: The Gathering vertical on their own. This is because many of the mainstream outlets tend to focus on digital and tech as their primary focus, with tabletop and TCGs existing in the background.”
I shouldn’t even need to explain how much I adore Magic: The Gathering, and how much I love my job. I come in every day and write about it, it’s practically all I think about. But I’ve noticed lately my thinking has turned from “oh wow, this is a cool and exciting new thing”, to “oh god, what now?”. It feels like Wizards sees hype, enthusiasm, and the investment of its community’s content creators as an expendable resource. Unfortunately, for lots of people, our energy is running dry, and with no end to the problem in sight, all we can do is knuckle down and get ready for The Brothers’ War to hit us in the face.
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