From November 25-27, the MKM series visited Prague for the second year in a row. At the event, I sat down with one of the tournament organizers, Marko Schädlich, to talk about Prague, the MKM series as a whole, and the 2017 tournament schedule.
I arrive in Prague on day two of the MKM series tournament. The weekend-long event is in full swing: in addition to the Modern competition, there are Vintage and Commander side events, as well as trials for Sunday’s Legacy tournament. The convention center is bursting with players, most engaged in matches, others trading, browsing the shops, or just talking. Every few minutes, the PA system comes to life and announces the start of another round or event.
Tournament organizer Marko Schädlich is quite satisfied with the player turnout so far. The Modern main event attracted nearly 300 players.
“A lot of people came in on Saturday morning. Advance numbers were already very good, but many players preferred to register on-site,” Schädlich reports, “The same should be true for tomorrow’s Legacy event.”
In the end, the number of Legacy players is 216, which is indicative of the format’s slightly lower popularity when compared to Modern. The newer format, which is a little more affordable in the short term and heavily supported by Magic creators Wizards of the Coast, tends to draw more players in the MKM series.
Still, a tournament organizer can never know exactly how many players will show – right up until the start of the first round, when registration closes for good.
Giving back to the community
There is an inherent uncertainty in organizing a tournament. From a financial standpoint, it is a very risky proposition – which is why magiccardmarket is not in it for the money, Schädlich says.
“Organizing these tournaments is about giving back to the community. Like most tournament organizers, we don’t earn any money on it. Admission and prize payout are structured to recoup the cost of the location, coverage and remunerating the judges. No one in Europe is getting rich doing tournaments.”
Not earning any money does not seem like a particularly good business case, but Schädlich considers Magiccardmarket’s interest in organizing the tournament series a long-term investment: “If the community does well, we do well. We’re a trading platform, and without players, there is no trade. We’re interested in promoting tournament play because it’s good for the health of the game.”
Prague is one of five MKM series events in 2016. The events aim at filling a gap in the official Magic tournament schedule. “Wizards of the Coast only organizes a few official Grand Prix tournaments in Europe each year, not enough to contend with the large demand coming from the community”, he says, “The MKM series provides additional events where people can play.”
“I don’t think the MKM series puts us in any sort of competition with Wizards. Our goals are largely the same – to promote the game, to engage players, and to build a strong community.”
In order to reach those goals, magiccardmarket is also engaged in another venue, much more low-profile than the MKM series: each year, the company sponsors over 500 Magic events all over Europe, ranging from small store events to large tournaments like the Ovino in Milan.
Heading for the border
The MKM Series was instituted in 2015, with tournaments in Rome, Toulouse, Prague, and Madrid. This year, Frankfurt and London replaced the French event, while the Italian tournament moved north to Milan.
In 2017, a second German event will be held in Hamburg. Schädlich does not deny that this change has to do with the huge popularity of Frankfurt, especially compared to the lackluster London event – which saw little more than a tenth of Frankfurt’s attendance. “Frankfurt was our biggest event ever. We had over 2,000 registrations across all formats, which is still incredible to me.”
It seems there is a limit to not making money, as the MKM series will not return to England next year.
For me at least, the tournament in Hamburg means that I will finally be able to enjoy a top tier Magic event without suffering the aftereffects of a long car ride (the 700 kilometer drive to Prague took nearly seven hours).
Northern Germany has proven the viability of its player base, with Flensburg-based Legacy tournament Eternal Clash regularly drawing close to 100 people from Germany and Denmark. It’s hard to imagine the MKM series not taking notice of this fact, since they at one point sponsored the Flensburg tournament.
[Author’s note: I’ll have an interview with the organizers of the Eternal Clash up soon, so stay tuned!]
The German Magic community is probably the largest in Europe, but so far, magiccardmarket has been cautious in adding too many events, especially in Germany. Schädlich explains:
“We don’t want to become an exclusively German tournament series. We’re interested in creating a European Magic scene, encouraging players to travel, see other countries, and interact with others. Prague is ideal for that. Of course, there are a lot of German players here, mainly from Munich and Berlin, since we’re close to the border. But we’ve also succeeded in mobilizing the strong Czech Magic community for the second year in a row. And there’s many players from other nearby countries such as Slovakia, Austria, and Italy.”
“Next year, we’ll have two German events, but they’re positioned to attract a lot of players from other countries. There is a vibrant Danish and Scandinavian community we hope to see in Hamburg, much like players from all over Europe came to Frankfurt.”
Indeed, the new tournament schedule does seem to skew more towards Europe’s inner borders: Milan certainly attracts more Swiss, Austrians and Germans than Rome did, while Barcelona is more attractive to French players than Madrid. Prague, with its international appeal, is the only city to feature in the MKM Series lineup for 2015, 2016, and 2017.
Beyond that, Schädlich can only give vague outlines of what is to yet to come.
“France remains attractive to us,” he says, alluding to the country’s large, but somewhat isolated Magic community, “We’ll have to see how the tournament scene there shakes out before we make the decision to return. We can’t do two dozen events per year, and we can’t be everywhere at once. But we’ll definitely keep organizing tournaments. It’s just too much fun.”