There’s a book by Titus Chalk named So Do You Wear A Cape? – The Unofficial Story of Magic: The Gathering. I haven’t read the book, but I have read the chapter named How the Pro Tour Saved Magic, which was excerpted and published on Channel Fireball. The thing is that I disagree.
Chalk argues that Pro Tour gave people heroes they could latch onto. People they could admire and aspire to be. Just like Real Sports.
I read that excerpt quite a long time ago, but I was listening to The Deck Tease with Randy Buehler, and that reminded me of that article. I would much prefer Buehler’s argument (not that he’s actually arguing about this, but let’s go with that).
The actual reason Pro Tour “saved” Magic is that the game needed people to develop it. Sure, there were plenty of creative people working on design, but that’s not enough. The early sets were often interesting thematically, but they weren’t very balanced and gameplay wasn’t necessarily very exciting. The cards new players wanted to play were poor. Take the favorite card of all teenaged players of the early years: Craw Wurm. Who would play that today? Even the better versions of today are usually just marginally playable, such as Vulpine Goliath.
The Pro Tour brought in people, who understood the game from a totally different perspective. Take Randy Buehler’s example: Serra Angel was once removed from the core set, because it was deemed too powerful. Spells were the big thing back then. Playing creatures was usually a poor choice, often something to be ridiculed. That wasn’t something most actual players were interested in. They wanted to play their big monsters. Certain Pros understood this. Sure it might make their tournaments different, but the Pro Tours don’t really pay the bills for Wizards.
So, balancing the different card types in a new way was what saved the game, and that required people like Randy Buehler and Erik Lauer to come in and bring their Pro Player perspective into the process. To this day, the developers are usually people who come in from the Pro Tour. Think recent examples like Gerry Thompson and Zack Hill, as well as older players like Patrick Chapin, Zvi Mowshowitz, Dave Humpherys, Mike Turian, and Aaron Forsythe, many of whom still work there.
Sure, there’s probably being a number of pros in there, who have had very different viewpoints, such as infamously Henry Stern, but gladly, the Buehler line has worked and the game is much better for it, when games are not about comboing off as quickly as possible, or sitting there staring at your opponent waiting for one of you to flinch.
The Pro Tour does have the function of having something to aspire to, but if there are over ten million players all over the world, how many of them do you suppose can name more than one or two hall-of-famers? Basically its a pretty marginal group.