When broadcasting their Grand Prix or Pro Tour tournaments, Magic: The Gathering’s official Twitch channel tends to take the “sports” angle: they talk the whole tournament, watch different players, and show off the field. This weekend they’re following one single player, and it’s great.
[Update - 6:05pm] - Reid Duke is out of the tournament after missing the cut to top 8, but he is going to be on commentary through tomorrow, so you can still hear what he thinks about the game.
That player is Reid Duke, whose accomplishments in Magic have been pretty significant, and the event is Legacy, a format that uses cards extending all the way back to the first set of Magic. Alongside tournament organizers CFB Events, official Magic coverage made the choice to follow one of the most skilled players in the game competing in one of the most skill-intensive formats that the game has to offer.
You can watch this coverage by clicking this link here, by the way.
The choice to follow one player has the ability to produce a lot of different outcomes: Duke could drop from the tournament early; viewers could miss the shape of the entire tournament; it could be boring. Luckily, at least two days into the three-day-event, none of those things have happened.
In fact, it is working basically as intended. The matches have been a fascinating look into the methods of a player who has consistently done well at Magic in a tournament setting, and to be frank, this is the thing that is missing from a lot of Magic coverage. While many sites run articles or videos of Magic pros playing games, those are not the same as listening to a pro communicate about a complicated game state with their opponent or talk with a judge.
In physical competitive Magic (as opposed to Magic Online or Arena), the rules are adjudicated by judges who walk around and view matches. If you think something weird has gone in on your game or that your opponent has made an illegal move, you call a judge. Lots of people don’t know quite how to handle that interaction. Even more people have trouble advocating for themselves when they encounter those authority figures. Here’s Reid Duke doing all of it:
In the clip, Duke catches a mistake, a judge gives him a game rule violation, and then Duke realizes that he did not make a mistake. Then he proves it.
In normal Magic coverage, we would never hear this interaction. Normally there is not a microphone at the table, meaning that anything we learn about judge interactions on-stream will be communicated through a game of telephone that happens between someone standing at the table who communicates it to the commentator who then communicates to the viewer. 99% of the time that takes the form of something like “well, there seems to be some confusion here. We’ll wait for a judge to sort it out.”
Being able to hear Duke talk through the interaction is meaningfully helpful for players who want to get better at the game and maneuvering through the relationship between players and judges.
It goes beyond that, though, because hearing every interaction between Duke and his opponents helps show what proper play is supposed to look like. Legacy is a notoriously complicated format of Magic, which is generally just a complicated game, and Duke is exceptionally clear in his communication about what the state of the game looks like at any moment.
The fact is that some players of Magic lean into ambiguity about the game state to their advantage. Some players prey on the fact that their opponents do not know the game as well as they do. Reid Duke continually makes sure that everyone knows exactly what is happening at every moment, and in doing so, he keeps the bar for proper play very high.
He verbally signals when he is interacting during certain phases of the game, and he is always maximally clear about what he is doing. That shouldn’t seem like a high bar, but it is, and if everyone played with the clarity that Duke does, Magic would be a better play experience for everyone.
While the broadcast does, during time between rounds, kick over to some non-Duke coverage, it is basically wall-to-wall Reid Duke all weekend. I really do encourage you to check it out.
I have enjoyed literally every minute of Magic coverage this weekend, especially since commentator Marshall Sutcliffe has been golf whispering through most games, and I hope that this “experiment” in coverage becomes the standard. While we lose something of the shape of the entire tournament, the deep focused value that I find in listening to Duke talk through each turn far outweighs that big traditional sports angle. After all, I can just read official writeups from Wizards of the Coast if I need that info.