Last weekend, 7,551 players showed up at the Las Vegas Convention Center to play Magic: The Gathering, the immensely popular strategy card game. The tournament was so big it had to be split into two. This was a record-shattering attendance for an event of its kind, and historical for not only its sheer mass, but also for a surprising decision made by a pro player at the final stages of the event that set up some old-fashioned human drama.
If you're not familiar, a common way to describe Magic is as a mix of poker, chess, and fantasy theme...kind of like Lord of the Rings. It's a little geeky, sure, but the medieval battle element is really just flavor for what underneath is a really well-designed enterprise, full of interesting decisions on every turn. Most fans will tell you with a straight face (and not even a hint of hyperbole) that Magic is the best game of all time. Ever. No debate. Anyone can learn and sign up to play, but at the higher competition, skill trumps luck, as the best of the best can take it to another level with astonishing acumen.
Which leads us back to Pascal Maynard, a pro from Canada, who had fought through two full days of rigorous rounds to make the final Top 8 of the tournament. At this stage, everything stops and all eyes are on one final draft, where the remaining participants take turns picking cards used to build the decks to determine a winner. Each selection is crucial.
With a camera following him, Maynard chose one-by-one as thousands of spectators followed along, watching via a live stream on Twitch.tv. Going into the second pack, he opened a foil Tarmogoyf: a mythic card so rare and desired that it is by far the most expensive card in the set that was being played...but unfortunately not in his colors. You could see him on the stream labor over the decision. So even though he couldn't use the card in the deck he was building, and it would not in any way help him take down the prestigious event, and he was just a couple wins away from fulfilling his dream of making it to the exclusive Worlds pro event, he picked it anyway...for the money. He ended up losing in the semi-finals.
The backlash from his fellow pros was immediate and condemning. Pascal Maynard had broken a commandment held in high regard among his peers. As a pro, you play for the win, not the reward. And even though the decision affected no one but himself, Maynard got attacked. First by Hall of Famer, statesmen, and defacto leader of the pack William "Huey" Jensen:
I just lost all respect for Pascal Maynard.— William Jensen (@HueyJensen) June 1, 2015
And then by Owen Turtenwald, known to be abrasive and a bit of a jerk, but probably the very best player in the world:
And then, even the universally-respected Face of Magic, the fan favorite, good guy Reid Duke joined the fray, in a stunning heel turn that no one saw coming.
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) June 1, 2015
Others piled on. Pro after pro echoed their disapproval. The social punishment bully parade marched swift and fierce. Their criticism was personal and called into question his character.
Interestingly, though, the fans of the game sided with Maynard. Everyone watching wanted that foil Tarmogoyf just as much as Pascal did, and couldn't see what all the fuss was about. They couldn't stomach the public shaming. The backlash against the backlash took a sour turn, as fans picked up Maynard's offense and went hard at the pros in social media.
After almost a day of vitriol, Maynard broke his silence with a simple Facebook post. His explanation was straight-forward and rather humble. He outlines what went through his head in that short burst of time he had to make the pick, and he admitted that it was probably a mistake. "From my lifestyle standpoint, now that I had more than one minute to consider what was on the line at that moment, I misplayed," he writes.
Credit to Reid Duke, who seemingly broke stride with his tag team partners, and turned back to offer an apology.
The others? Not so much. Instead, the honest post led to some clumsy, half-hearted, pseudo-apologies by the pros, which reeked badly of self-justification.
Winning at Magic means more to me than any amount of money. It was foolish to expect that other professional players would feel similarly.— Owen Turtenwald (@OwenTweetenwald) June 1, 2015
I definitely respect the fact that Pascal said he made a mistake and acted in the heat of the moment.— William Jensen (@HueyJensen) June 1, 2015
This only fueled the fans criticism to a fever pitch. They wanted blood, some even calling for a boycott or suspension. I'm sure it wasn't long before nervous sponsors started making phone calls. The next day, within a few minutes of each other, both Turtenwald and Jensen tweeted PR-tinged apologies.
In hindsight, I realize the strength of my response and word choice regarding goyfgate was out of line, and for that I sincerely apologize.— Owen Turtenwald (@OwenTweetenwald) June 2, 2015
After reflection, I realize that I handled myself poorly regarding the incident with @PascalMaynard. (1/2)— William Jensen (@HueyJensen) June 2, 2015
My intention was to criticize the decision and not the person, I got caught up in the heat of the moment, and for that I apologize. (2/2)— William Jensen (@HueyJensen) June 2, 2015
Two things stand out to me about the whole affair. First, is that whenever you put people together in a social group, whether that be a clique of friends, an office setting, or participants in the same game, there are always rules. Each sub-culture defines its own laws, spoken or not. Thou shalt not listen to U2 anymore. Thou shalt not use Comic Sans. Or in this case, Thou shalt not rare-draft in the top 8 of a Grand Prix.
Second, we tend to act badly when someone breaks our laws. If you thought judgment, outrage and condemnation were only for fundamental religions, PETA, and Rush Limbaugh...then you're blissfully ignoring that pitchfork in your own closet. We all can get caught up in the cycle of disapproval and indignation when someone offends our idea of right and wrong. Even if it only expresses itself in shame or snark.
So where's the grace note after all this human interpersonal drama? Well, instead of fighting back against his accusers, Maynard kept his humor with his even response. And let's not forget the card itself, a one-of-a-kind foil Tarmogoyf, stamped with the tournament seal, and used in the top 8 of the largest Grand Prix of all time, is now the most famous card in Magic history. Maynard placed it up for auction on eBay, promising that 50% of the proceeds will go to charity. The price, at the time of this writing, has reached nearly $15,000.
I like that ending...but wouldn't it be even better if the winning bid turned out to be Huey, Owen and Reid going in on it together?
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