Pop and Pivot

Magic, as we know it, is dead. The “as we know it” part is important, because Magic isn’t going away completely anytime soon, but it appeared that Wizards heard the complaints about the ridiculous release tempo of their product and the declining quality of WPN stores, and in response doubled down. That’s a big raft of products being pushed out in a few months, hot on the heels of Masters 25, which is being presold by many retailers at 30% off.

Magic is no longer the “press button, receive bacon” product that it was five years ago, and the butcher’s bill is real, with 100+ game stores closing in 2017. Undiversified binder-and-table stores that existed only to push Magic boosters across the counter are being squeezed on one side by customers who are fatigued and disillusioned from the fire hose release schedule, and on the other side by competing retailers and para-retail sales channels racing to make less than 10% margin on product. I recall a retailer after a TCGPlayer presentation at a trade show lamenting that he can’t set his buy prices higher than everyone else, his sell prices lower than everyone else, and make a living thereby. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, the Invisible Hand smacks the snot out of free riders every single time growth stops. For these low-effort, low-investment retailers the good times are over, and I can hear their plaintive wailing in the WPN Facebook group even from the outside through the closed door.

Could it be that Wizards is bleeding Magic in order to save it? Possible, but unlikely given the shareholder interests at play via Hasbro. In either case, it doesn’t change my store’s next move.

Magic is still a part of our business, but it’s no longer the only thing propping up the tabletop side of things. We built our premium game room expansion last year amid the flames of Magic’s self-immolation, much to the concern of my employees, but it’s paying off. RPGs and Pokemon are both shocking us on a regular basis, with casual players and parent/child teams demonstrating that they will cheerfully flood into and pay premium rates for a nice place to play run by people who are happy to be there. Board Games and Miniature Gaming are slower to take off in the aftermath of shaking off the scummier side of the local community and the drama that followed, but the more level-headed from those communities are poking their noses in. I suspect that these other categories will hit critical mass quickly as the first few test the waters and find a supportive, healthy environment amenable to community growth.

None of this would have mattered if Magic had remained the powerhouse it was in years past. We would have been too busy keeping up with that one line to make sure that the rest were healthy.

In light of these developments I’m leaving my island long enough to take a chance on the GAMA Trade Show. There are things I want to learn about running a tabletop game store that I never exposed myself to before, since I didn’t have the space to pursue the techniques that are successful for others. To be very honest, I don’t know if it will be fruitful for us or not, but I’m eager to give it a chance. Perhaps the present chaos is not a pit, but a ladder. It’s possible that the decline of Magic is giving many of us a chance to finally run a better game store.

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