Rolling for Initiative is a weekly column by Scott Thorne, PhD, owner of Castle Perilous Games & Books in Carbondale, Illinois and instructor in marketing at Southeast Missouri State University. This week, Thorne looks at how, by focusing on revitalizing the Standard format, Wizards of the Coast risks cannibalizing Magic: The Gathering sales.

Wizards of the Coast recently announced the return of its Standard Showdown promotion, designed to encourage Standard format organized play for Magic the Gathering (see “Standard Format”).  WotC introduced the Standard Showdown program in 2016, and it ran until 2020 where the COVID-19 epidemic brought an end to all in store Organized Play programs.  Most stores have seen dramatic drop off in Standard format organized play over the past few years for a couple of reasons: 

#1 Commander has been growing for several years now, and is a more popular format to play of the tabletop than Standard.

#2 Standard format is the primary format for MTG Arena online play, which is more accessible to the average player. 

Most formats of Organized Play for Magic do not directly generate additional sales for WotC.  WotC makes its money off physical product by selling such things as booster packs, Commander decks and products targeted towards collectors, such as Secret Lair sets.  WotC makes no money on sales of aftermarket products such as single cards, out of print booster boxes or discontinued items such as Duel Decks.  So, for WotC to increase revenues on physical products, it needs to either sell more collector products (which, lord knows, they are releasing at an ever increasing rate), or get more people buying Magic for use in Standard format and Commander games.  Since Commander is typically casual rather than tournament play and decks only require one copy of any given card (outside of basic land), it falls to reason that the best format for WotC to focus on to increase Magic sales is Standard.

There are three ways for a company to increase sales of its products: find new customers, increase the number of sales to current customers, and increase the size of sales to current customers.  The first of those ways is really hard to accomplish and requires a significant investment in both money and time to achieve.  The latter two ways of increasing sales are more feasible, but require some level of ingenuity as far as injecting new customer excitement into a product line.

By giving players more incentive to play Standard format, through promo cards, store championships, and increased prizing at Open tournaments, WotC hopes to move players from other formats of Magic play into playing Standard.  The goal is to give customers more incentive to purchase new booster sets rather than aftermarket cards.  Even if customers keep buying aftermarket cards to build decks for Standard tournaments, singles seller will still have to buy new booster product to crack open to meet demand, which will inevitably increase sales.

Unfortunately, this is a classic cannibalization model because it pulls players from other formats to get them to play Standard.  WotC may be generating additional sales through either larger or more frequent sales in the short run, but eventually, those players will likely cycle out of playing Magic as the average stint for new player is about three to five years before they move onto something else, as people do.  According to WotC, 70% of players play casually, eschewing tournaments.  I would much rather see the money WotC plans to spend on revitalizing Standard format tournaments spent on outreach programs focusing on getting lapsed and new players back into the game.  It is time consuming and expensive, but also the best way to create awareness of Magic in another generation of players.

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The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of