There is a giant elephant in the room right now, so I want to address it.
The novel coronavirus has been impacting everyone, but in different ways. My life has been so dedicated to Magic: The Gathering throughout my years that I have gotten to know the space very well. Still, this pandemic is completely unprecedented, and it turns out that my life as a professional Magic player has been turned upside down in the short-term, along with many others'.
As a community we should all be familiar with what this term means by now. The bottom line is that social distancing means trying to stay away from other people. In my case, it means staying at home with my daughter, and telling her to stay in our cramped apartment for a few weeks. We go outside once a day, but there is a risk in doing so, even if it is for a walk, or to pick up necessary groceries from the store. She knows that there is a "bug" going around, but really cannot fully understand what is happening with the coronavirus. In fact, I think we are all still trying to wrap our heads around understanding the virus.
Magic was created as a game to be played with other people. This puts it at odds with the idea of social distancing. Sure, you can sit down at home and goldfish by yourself, but this isn't why people play the game. For many people the main reason that they actually play Magic is because of the social experience it provides—once that gets taken away, there becomes a lot less demand to play.
Wizards of the Coast along with other major tournament organizers did not hesitate to cancel their events, even realizing it would inevitably mean losing a significant amount of money. Good on them for setting the right example. I was thinking about whether or not I would play in SCG Baltimore, since it would have been only a short drive away. Luckily, I wasn't put in the position of having to decide whether the risk of going was worth it, since the event got cancelled. This was the right decision, even though at that time there was no mandate against large social gatherings.
A variety of Grand Prix Events and the Players Tour Finals were cancelled. In fact, it is impossible to predict right now when large scale tournaments will start running again. We are essentially in a holding pattern. This is rough for competitive and casual players alike. Imagine relying on events to make a living, or aspiring to become a professional Magic player through your event-based performance.
Local game stores though are perhaps going to be the biggest hit by this. FNMs and smaller tournaments are mostly not going to be running while this pandemic is taking place. Many stores will be ordered to close, and the ones that stay open won't see as many sales.
During this time many across the globe are losing money as markets crash. While people aren't going to the airports or restaurants, they also aren't going to stores to buy cards. Buying MTG cards is something most people do to support their hobby, which makes it one of the first expenses that gets cut when strained on money. While I don't have the hard data to back this up, I believe there are many more people trying to sell cards right now than buy them.
Some players have many thousands of dollars of money stored up in cards, and now is a time when having cash is extremely important. There will be people trying to offload cards in order to make sure they can pay for their mortgage and other expenses, after having lost jobs or other income. The MTG economy doesn't exactly track the stock market, but it makes sense that at this time card prices would be going down. If you are looking to pick up some cards for cheaper prices, this is not a bad time to do that.
I didn't realize what the gig economy was, or that I was personally a part of it, until this pandemic started. Gig workers are independent workers who are often self-employed. Rather than receiving an hourly wage, they rely on a specific event or project to get paid. If that event doesn't happen, they don't get their money for the job.
Players take a hit from events being cancelled, but it extends beyond that. Think about the coverage team at Mythic Championships and so forth. We are seeing people getting laid off from jobs, yet gig workers have also effectively been laid off as well, at least momentarily.
We have Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths coming right around the corner, but what if there are no Prerelease or Release events? The first few weeks after a new set is released is the most important time for its success. Ikoria sales will almost certainly be down compared to recent sets. Many people go to their LGS to buy boosters and such, but this won't be happening as much. It is going to be difficult to see excitement in a new set get tampered with by something external like this virus, but that is the world we are living in.
The good news is that many content producers will still be out there working, and trying to hype up the new set. Hopefully this will help make players want to play with Ikoria, even if the ways to do so are more limited.
There is one MTG sphere of play that remains largely unaffected by the coronavirus, and therefore traffic should be up for Magic Online and MTG Arena with players spending their days at home. It is very important for WOTC to have these online platforms, to have revenue streams moving forward. We will see players such as myself start to move toward streaming from home, as in-person play is unavailable.
It will be very interesting to see if players who would otherwise be investing in Ikoria to play tabletop Magic decide to play online instead. I'm hoping we see some sweet online tournaments, and it isn't off the table to have the very largest events that MTG has to offer moved to MTGO. WOTC has already added an online option for the next Regional Players Tour, and it is possible that the trend will continue. The hope here is that WOTC sees the value in having large high-stakes events as play-from-home style tournaments, rather than completely cancelling a major event.
For many people it is tough to see what is going on right now, but as we have heard there will eventually be a peak to the virus, and things will go back to normal. Not knowing when the virus will run its course is very challenging, but the best thing we can do is our due diligence in regards to social distancing. Even though the vast majority of MTG players aren't in the high risk categories of people who could be heavily affected by the virus, it is still important to take every measure to prevent its spread.
By preventing the spread of COVID-19 and staying home in the short-term, we will hopefully shorten the timeline of the virus, and that will mean less people get the virus. This pandemic is something that none of us were prepared for, but we need to accept the new lifestyle for what will hopefully be a short period of time.
This has been a tough time for everyone, including myself, as many of my close friends are a part of the competitive Magic scene. My heart goes out to those who are itching to play the game, and don't have the means to do so right now. A lot of this is going to be a safety or financially based decision, but I ask you not to forget the love and support of this great community we are in, during this time of need.