Wizards announced changes to the FNM system that, in my opinion, effectively end the popular program and introduce something new with the FNM name.
Taken as a group, these changes will improve in-store play for some players, and make it worse for some others.
If you are intimidated by low-stakes competitive play, and prefer really casual events, these changes will be mostly positive for you.
If you love Standard and your local store supports it, these changes will be mostly neutral.
And if you love drafting, follow competitive sites and play to win at FNM drafts (the path that took me into competitive play), these changes are terrible.
I’ll just add a quick aside. This is not a cost-cutting exercise from Wizards. This is WotC spending money to (in their mind) improve programs for in-store play. This article argues it misses the mark, but I think WotC spending money on in-store play is a good thing if done well.
What was FNM?
FNM is a WotC promotion where WotC provide free prizes (in the form of unique foil promos, mostly of uncommons) to stores that run low-stakes tournaments with them.
Stores were mostly free to set the format of these events themselves.
Stores with a competitive clientele that focused on Modern could run a Modern event with the top four winning the promo cards. Stores whose playerbase was quite casual could run FNM and award one promo card to first, and three to random players.
The promo cards were sometimes crap noone wanted like this piece of shit.
And at other times they have been chase commons and uncommons with beautiful art, and occasionally cards not otherwise available in foil.
These cards – Swords to Plowshares, Serum Visions, or very long ago Priest of Titania – all made the FNM program extremely popular with a considerable number of enfranchised, competitively minded players.
FNM will continue to exist but the promo cards are being replaced by foil tokens. For all intents and purposes, this kills the program for the semi-competitive enfranchised player. While there are exceptions, these players broadly do not care about tokens – they want to win playable cards.
These players also usually appreciate low print run reprints of cards like Serum Visions or Path to Exile, which can become difficult to trade for. Just having a few dozen more Serum Visions in binders in a city makes the card easier to acquire even if the retail price isn’t changed much.
What’s filling the void, and why doesn’t it suffice?
From the ashes of the old FNM, two new programs rise.
New FNM is intended to be a much more casual event, precisely because there are only tokens on the line, not popular cards. Responses from casual players are mixed, but (as far as I can tell from reading social media), are mostly ambivalent or slightly positive.
For the semi-competitive and competitive crowd, the new system offers Standard Showdown.
Standard Showdown was WotC’s response to the worst Standard environment since the days before the banning of Arcbound Ravager and seven of its partners in crime. Facing stores abandoning their flagship format, they offered stores additional prize support in the form of special booster packs that had less cards than usual but had more rares and foils, and (at first) could contain a Zendikar Expedition. This gave players who were fed up with cats being copied or Snugglecopters a material incentive to try Standard again.
There are three reasons Standard Showdown doesn’t fill the void left by FNM’s changes for semi-competitive and competitive players.
First, as implied by the name, it is Standard only.
Standard is a reasonable format right now and it is the most popular format of the various Constructed ones, but it is far from universally liked. Many stores simply cannot fire Standard events but have large Modern playerbases, or dozens eager to draft.
On top of that, there are niche stores where Legacy has a well-established playerbase.
These stores have no replacement for FNM. They can continue to host new FNM events with the new token promos, but given how available third party tokens of high quality are, I doubt these promos will attract players.
Secondly, the prize structure is much more of a lottery than many players like.
With today’s FNM, you know the prize structure. There’s a promo card worth perhaps $3 (for a dud) or $15 (for a very good one). You can sit down on your last match and think ‘I’m playing for $15 here’.
With Standard Showdown, you are playing for an undraftable pack with unpredictable value. While the mean (average) value of a cracked prize pack will be in the range of $3 plus whatever the new promo lands settle at, the median (i.e. midpoint) value will be basically just the new promo land.
If you like cracking packs these prizes are fine, but if you do not, they are not so hot.
Stores get 40% fewer Standard Showdown packs than they get FNM promo cards, so there are less prizes to go around, exacerbating this disappointment.
Thirdly, for reasons I cannot fathom, Standard Showdown is only allowed to be held on weekends. For suburban stores this is the logical time to run any event, but for CBD stores with an older clientele, this is a dealbreaker. These stores’ best customers are (mostly) 20 or 30 something office workers (my demographic), who love to rock up and play Magic after work, but for whom it is often a considerably bigger ask to show up on a weekend.
Taken together these three reasons mean that Standard Showdown is being poorly received by large parts of its target audience – and those players are now furious that they are losing FNM with nothing of value (to them) replacing it.
I’m not wedded to the current structure of FNM.
Wizards clearly want to encourage the more casual players to play Magic in store, and to enter laid-back tournaments with little on the line, and without facing as many highly skilled opponents that are playing to win. I’m 100% for encouraging this.
It is possible to create prize structures that promote this goal without removing a beloved program from enfranchised players.
WotC could combine the best of both worlds by offering more participation rewards for in-store play.
Imagine this – Wizards announce that in October, WPN stores at the lowest tier will be given 32 copies of an alternate art promo Rogue Refiner, 8 foil copies of that same promo, and 50 Goblin tokens to distribute as prize support split as they see fit between a minimum of four tournaments, of which at least one must be Standard, and at least one a Limited format. (Presently this store would get 12 Standard Showdown packs, and 16 FNM promo foils).
If that store had a competitive clientele, they could offer Friday and Saturday qualifier events each week, giving out very small prizes but allowing people entry into an end-of-month championship, where most of the promos will be given out to the top 4.
If the clientele are much more casual, it may be more appropriate to have Chaos Draft Friday which awards the tokens, and Standard Saturday with the promo Refiners, with every participant in Saturday events getting a non-foil promo while stocks last.
And yet another store might feel it best to have a Standard league, where you build your deck, change it as you wish, and play matches on your own time, with a big prize for playing games (win or lose) on the largest number of unique days.
Ultimately stores know their playerbase and would often come up with better ideas than I have here for their promos. As long as they are distributed with integrity and the distribution is clearly communicated to players, I’m fine with anything.
Just don’t scrap a popular vehicle for promo cards unless you are replacing it with something that’s at least as good as what is lost.
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