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Magic, Philanthropy, and You


The state of being a Vorthos, to reiterate, is one of appreciating the game behind the game. Today’s topic doesn’t really fit anywhere other than on Wednesday. There’re so many words and so few pictures! It hurts me. It really does.

Today, we’re talking social responsibility instead of social appreciation.

Before you roll your cynical eyes, let’s get this fundamental truth out of the way:

Magic players aren’t destitute.

The game is set up such that those who play are often upper-middle-class people with expendable leisure time and wealth. I’m not making the assumption that everyone has a trust fund, or is even gainfully employed, but the vast majority of players are in a socioeconomic class that allows them to enjoy Magic as a hobby.

What I’m advocating today is that the Magic community can easily be more socially conscious without changing the status quo to any major extent.

I urge storeowners, tournament organizers, players, and Wizards of the Coast to be more socially conscious. I believe that integrating social responsibility into the game will affect the game only nominally, and it will create a measurable value to many communities. Since the average Magic player and person who reads GatheringMagic is in the first third of his life, this will be an educational lesson.

(The esteemed Andrew Carnegie believed in this dictum: It’s a one-third rule. In the first third of your life, you are to acquire as much education as humanly possible; in the second third, you are to gain as much wealth as possible; and, in the final third, you are to become a philanthropist and give as much as you can to charitable causes.)

Store Owners

Store owners, I know you’re entrepreneurial. I understand that you’ve tried nearly everything already to get people in your door, and you don’t need to do much with your crowd. But you haven’t tried everything yet.

Your players might not know why to care, but here is the reason you should get involved:

To give something back to a community.

This is what’s sticky: What does the community want?

Here’s an example: Does the NFL really care that much about breast cancer, or is it just popular? South Park commented on this with an episode describing how popular cancer fundraisers are compared to AIDS events. How are football players connected to breast cancer? It’s a stretch. It really is.

If you’re in a neighborhood, new Magic players start out from being taught by brothers, friends, and the older kid in the playgroup. Does your little brother want to learn how to play? Is he under fifteen years old? Why not, store owner, give him a free draft, but only if he does something socially conscious for some number of hours?

A store in the Minneapolis area, the Source Comics and Games, is a strong supporter of lupus research, but they haven’t taken it yet to the next level. Why not have incentives for players to donate? If you donate to the Lupus Foundation during an annual fund, you get a draft or FNM free. Or, if you’re discussing price increases, why not attribute part of that increase to a donation the store makes? When you’re a large store, a few players aren’t going to affect the business much. I would argue that FNM barely makes money; it’s the soda, snacks, free advertising, preorders, and associated buys that affect your bottom line.

Many stores support charitable causes already. I know how many letters these local game shops receive each year for fundraisers, walk-a-thons, and pledge drives. It’s in the hundreds, if not thousands, for larger places. Why not choose one and stick to that cause? A store owner or employee might not be able to donate large sums to a cause he or she personally wishes to support, but a store can help goals and passions considerably more than a single low-figure check once or twice a year.

Added Economic Bonuses

  1. Parents of younger players will be happy to know that donations are being made. It’s positive brand equity being built. This is what the Escapist video series urges the community to transform into.
  2. Membership benefits can be collaborative for the charity and the store. Why shouldn’t they? It’s very, very simple to integrate lucrative benefits to show commitments to a cause. You can’t tell me the Higgins Museum in Worcester, Massachusetts shouldn’t be working with its local game shops.
  3. Built-in advertising and marketing campaign pushes come from philanthropic causes. “Come to play” versus “Have fun and give back—a holistic experience.” I know no copyrighter, but there’s a huge opportunity there. Also, these charities might help the store create creative design materials. They often have communications people on staff to aid the store.

Tournament Organizers

Some larger tournaments have donation boxes for commons, uncommons, stamped cards, and lands. I don’t know the impact made by these micro donations, or if “a local science club” ever actually receives them. (The connection of STEM-related careers and MTG is astonishing. A future article is in the works.) It’s something minor that should always be there. I only have a single suggestion: Please have the donation box behind the main table.

I already mentioned charity auctions at conventions in a previous article. This was aimed at fantasy artists. A quick recap for those who haven’t read the article:

“Bring a test print or two and have them cheaply framed. It’ll still create a quality piece and it’s creating value out of something that would likely be discarded.”

Artists are often asked for donated items for charity auctions at larger conventions. I wonder if, in a contract for a larger tournament extravaganza weekend, an expectation to donate items to a charity auction would be terrible for vendors. It’d be a reason for people who don’t make Day 2 to stay until Sunday. At the very least, it increases dwell time to enter side events and spend money at the event.

If a tournament organizer wants to go bold, choose a cause, and then commit to it locally. Have an event at a local nonprofit for a cause that matters very personally to the organizer or the organizer’s company.

For example, say a tournament organizer has a personal conviction with breast-cancer research. It’s a noble thing to support, and, as I mentioned earlier, prevalent in the community. If a tournament is slightly more expensive than normal, but the Top 8 members receive pink-ribbon buttons or pins, special pink sleeves, dice, and play mats, you can guarantee that people will show up. Yes, I’m taking some liberties here, but, if you commission an artist to make swag, especially swag only for winners, you can guarantee people will want it. Magic is built on collectability, and I’d rock some pink sleeves in a Grand Prix. It’s no different than people having Top 8 pins on their play mats. It’s a trophy, a sense of pride, and an intimidation tactic.

Why Host a Tournament at a Nonprofit?

  • It, again, increases the dwell time at the event. If there’re vendors, tables and something to do there, players have a higher likelihood of entering side events simply because they’re there for longer.
  • There’s often a food shop with similar, if not tastier food than a concession stand at a convention center.
  • Many cultural sites, especially museums, are in commercial centers for food and other nightlife.
  • The rental cost is often cheaper at a nonprofit even than at a regular event or convention center. Seriously, non-wedding events are often relatively cheap.
  • It has a base-level better experience than a concrete (or low-carpet) center.

Can it create issues? Sure, it can.

Is it worth looking into? Absolutely.

Additional Reasons that You Should Get Involved in Socially Conscious Endeavors

  • To honor or memorialize a friend or loved one.
  • The Richie Proffitt memorial tournament would be a great example. Evan Erwin used his soapbox and celebrity to give a personal view into why this tournament was important. This type of event should happen all the time in nearly every city. It doesn’t need to be a gigantic event, but an FNM-sponsored night or massive side event at a Grand Prix would be quite welcome.

  • To build a positive reputation with the tournament you host each year.
  • If you host a Magic tournament at a museum, for example, players will remember your tournament. If a player does well, it becomes a defining experience. Ask David Ochoa how he battled evil behind a Renaissance painting of angels versus devils. Now that’s a setup for a gold-level tournament report.

  • To fulfill an area of philanthropy in which Wizards doesn’t participate.
  • WotC doesn’t participate in fund-raisers. What do they do? Read on and find out.

Wizards of the Coast, a Subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc.

Wizards touches a lot of charitable causes. If you’re in Washington and fulfill all the grant guidelines, you’re likely to receive a donation. They have precedents for helping. They do a lot by being part of Hasbro. I’ll let you read it, if you’d like. The list is huge.

For example, if you’re a hospital with children and you wish to have some games for kids to play, ask for some event decks. They’re perfect for long-term patients. You only get to watch Price Is Right one time each day if you’re there for multiple days or weeks. Ah, but you got a fetch land stolen? Ask for more. I guarantee you that Wizards will be more than happy to replace that card and get you a few more decks.

Wizards supports Child’s Play, and I congratulate them for that. I’m working on getting our local children’s hospitals in Minneapolis on board with the nonprofit.

Wizards has sponsorships available even on their website.

Couldn’t a local game shop have a tournament sponsored by Wizards? It might be Washington-specific, but Cafe Mox could be all up on that. It’d be a start, and it’s fitting with goals for everyone.

How Wizards Is Involved Already

  • Perpetuating a certain viewpoint or philosophy.
  • Gaming can be fundamental to math and science success later in life. People who are involved in games have a lower crime rate. It’s hard to be out causing trouble when you’re swinging for 80 at FNM. (Nathan, I’m sure you know, off the top of your head, how to do that in Standard on turn four.)

    This is community-relations, press-release material. Did a scientist who invented something receive his start or notice an improvement in school from combat math? It’s a stretch, sure, but I know Wizards has all kinds of market research data. I’m sure they think of things like this every day.

  • Uniting family members around a purposeful mission.
  • Hasbro’s Family Games Night is a resounding success to family units everywhere. The initiative has manifested itself in the form of a TV show on the HUB channel and video games for the Wii. It’s a brilliant idea. Board games sold like hotcakes during the recession because of the replayability and low cost in relative comparison to other leisure activities. Some brilliant Hasbro person perceived the trend early and made all the correct decisions. Even parenting websites have praised the initiative and offered tips.

    Wizards does its part. The only request I have that they be open to collaborative efforts from communities when said communities do come knocking. I’m not just talking about Magic here. Dungeons and Dragons and bookstores are very much linked. Do dungeon masters become technical writers? Is Axis and Allies creating history professors? There are connections there.


Why should you, dear reader, care about anything other than grinding out your Planeswalker Points?

We already donate land and commons at tournaments. Stamped cards are basically an instant donation. Is that the best we can do?

Three reasons that we should care, among many:

  • To help fulfill your life’s goals and passions.
  • You like playing FNM? Oh, you just do it for the points? Hmm, well.

    You like playing at larger FNMs because they have higher points? Yes? Finding new players is what you should be trying to do. They’re often crushed, unless they have stupidly easy and powerful decks. Ahem, Valakut, ahem. If they’re booted early, talk to them and help them. Your philanthropic effort starts then.

    Give free, unbiased advice. Give new players marginal value in trades. Do you really care about $1 or $2? Seriously? If a player goes 0–4, but feels that he or she did well at trading, the player will come back. You’re building a community and deepening the bonds. Add a social concept and you have other tie-ins for new players. Reach out whenever you can.

  • To feel a sense of value and satisfaction.
  • Say you play in a Standard tournament where the top prizes are tournament staples in Modern and Legacy. The cost is higher because the prize pool is larger, and you go with your friend. If and when the cause is something you can relate to, it turns the conversation from just winning swag to having a holistic experience.

  • To leave a lasting imprint on society while making a significant difference.
  • This is a main reason that many people donate large sums to nonprofits. Start an annual fundraiser tournament, make a revenue-neutral environment, and you’ve made fundamental change. Players start these groundswells.

    One fourth and final reason that you should care:

  • To actually not care, but to love the incentive.
  • I’m not going to lie; I’ve entered $5Ks because the wick-absorbing long-sleeve shirt was worth the entry price. This perception is my reality. My masters thesis is on impure altruism and warm-glow giving. If a tournament organizer gives out themed swag, and you go simply for the chance to win it, that’s impure altruism. You are acting in your own personal interest, though for a good cause. It’s not evil; it’s a reality. Charitable causes know this and have events that fit that perception accordingly.

    For example, could a tournament have a blood-plasma drive the day before? Some sort of financial compensation could be given to a store owner/tournament organizer from the blood bank, players could get free entry the next day, and everyone wins. The blood bank doesn’t care how it gets the blood; it just desperately needs it.

    Find a college with a local game shop nearby, and you’ll find a blood bank in the same vicinity. Yes, there’s some combat math to figure out, especially in the financial realm, and the impact feels very minor, but it’s something that deepens the bonds between players outside of the shop. This is good for players, because they find play-test partners or fourth seats on Grand Prix trips. For the store to have players who keep each other accountable for game nights, it’s an endeavor that’s well worth it.


I’m not for forced social responsibility, but it’s something to look into. I hope that tournaments wouldn’t have donations equate to byes, but I can’t stand for doing nothing. We can do more with very little effort.

Start thinking strategically, people. There is something lucrative for people of all levels of involvement, such that we can enjoy a holistic experience that ties players to their stores to even greater extents.

In closing, I challenge everyone to think philanthropically.

Even Bob Ross supported causes outside of art.

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