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It’s not often I criticise Wizards of the Coast, generally because it’s not often I see anything to criticise. Their stewardship of Magic: the Gathering has been nothing short of incredible over the past five years, with the game growing by a factor of more than three. A very good performance for a twenty-year-old game.
However this year’s You Make the Card was an embarrassing debacle. While anything based on rounds of voting can be expected to send certain people’s emotions high, this seemed to go out of the way to do so, to no advantage. Hopefully it won’t be repeated again. Here follows the story of how we didn’t make the card.
It all started well enough, with the announcement by Ethan Fleischer. He was quite specific; “we’d like to involve the whole Magic Internet in the process” and so expectations were high for this guided card design process undertaken by the fans. The first voting rounds decided the permanent type to be designed, with Enchantment winning over Land in a vote-off. Black won the colour choice, and now the real meat of You Make the Card could begin; the actual design of the card.
The brush off
At this point Wizards told a large portion of the audience to get lost. I mean literally. Go away, and come back when we’re done here. Only US users were permitted to send in card designs, and the first anyone outside the US knew of this was when the design round opened. Everyone knew it was coming. A Black Enchantment had been chosen, there had been plenty of discussion of what this could be. Then every international fan had the rug pulled from under them.
I cannot overstate how infuriating and demoralising this was. Not in and of itself, but because of the process followed by Wizards this time. The early voting rounds built excitement nicely. Imagine this conversation:
“Are you excited”
Are you excited?”
“Are you excited?”
“Now… get lost!”
Like something out of a comedy, isn’t it? But no, this was Wizards acting for real in their card design contest. They were back in a couple of weeks to ask us how excited we were again, but most international users had switched off at this point, quite understandably. Clearly, the process was not for us. It wasn’t You Make the Card, it was You (our US fans) Make the Card. That should have been communicated at the start.
This was handled incredibly badly by Wizards. Building up excitement, pulling the rug out, then acting like “What?”
The inglorious end
For Magic’s many US fans the show continued. The card designs submitted were whittled down to a few contenders. These were cleaned up, given names, and put into voting rounds against one another. So eight cards became four cards, which became two cards, and finally there was a winner.
There was a catch with the winner though. It wasn’t named by a Magic fan. It was named by a member of the Wizards of Coast creative team, who works on Magic. That’s right; an employee won the company competition.
You may have entered competitions in the past. You may have looked at the small print, which often says: “employees of the [organizing company] and their families are not eligible to enter or win this competition” or words to that effect. This isn’t done because those companies don’t value their employees. It is done to avoid the competition looking like an inside deal that wasted everyone else’s time.
I am sorry to say that is exactly what You Make the Card 4 was; a waste of everyone’s time.
Jennifer Clarke Wilkes named a good card name. However as an employee of Wizards of the Coast, and a member of Magic’s creative team, she had no business being an entrant in this contest. If she wants to name cards, she can walk over the the development pod and hand in her work. If they like it; they will use it. And give credit where credit is due.
Clearly Wizards runs a workplace that recognises staff skills and encourages lateral input. Do I need to point out that this only highlights the point that no Wizards employee should have been involved in entering this competition? Ms Wilkes’ boss, Jenna Helland was herself on the Theros design team. Did she enter the competition? Did she encourage Jennifer to do so?
In the end, the title was a lie. Only some of us got the opportunity to make the card, and even then an employee’s entry was slipped in and became the winner. So even those of us who were eligible to design the card didn’t get to do so. What a waste of time.
The final result
Here is the card that we didn’t make: Waste Not. It’s a fine card, and we can expect to see it in the third set of the Theros block, or possibly the Magic 2015 set. That hasn’t been confirmed yet. I’m sure many of us players will enjoy playing with it. But we didn’t make it.
After this, following the disappointment that was Vanish into Memory, I am not sure there is a future for You Make the Card. If there is, a couple of unbelievably simple things need to happen.
1. Tell people ahead of time that they won’t be involved in certain stages. Yes there will be disappointment, but people deserve to know ahead of time that they won’t be involved in the design portion of a competition to design a card. Wizards conduct was inconsiderate and rude. Don’t repeat it.
2. No employees. I still cannot believe I have to write this, but apparently I do. If your competition is for the fans, it is not for your employees, regardless of how much they like the product they help create. Involving Wizards employees in card designs is called an internal meeting. For goodness’ sake.
In his summary article Ethan Fleischer closes with “It’s been a blast; let’s do it again some time.”
Or at all.