Magic: The Gathering is poised to experience a colossal 2023. The long-time tabletop juggernaut has continued to bolster its digital offerings with MTG Arena support, while this year marks the long-awaited return of paper Pro Tours, with the first having just taken place in Philadelphia. There’s a strong combination of interesting elements for both casual players and those who are much more invested.

At the center of this exciting year is Wizards of the Coast Senior Communications Manager Blake Rasmussen. Rasmussen is perhaps best known for his role in the recurring WeeklyMTG broadcast, where he’s joined by guests to discuss information ranging from the next updates on pro play to a new Secret Lair release.

Rasmussen’s role is significantly larger than that forward-facing delivery, however – he’s a leader in the voice of Magic: The Gathering and how the brand communicates with its players. Screen Rant sat down with Rasmussen during MagicCon Philadelphia to discuss his always evolving role, how to talk to players, and his love of Canadian Highlander.

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Blake Rasmussen on Magic: The Gathering in 2023

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Screen Rant: I feel like your role at Wizards of the Coast, while doing my research, changed quite a lot. From Editor-in-Chief to Senior Communications Manager, the thing that seems to be linking it together is direct dialogue with the players. What do you think is key to having a successful and healthy dialogue with the players?

Blake Rasmussen: It is continuously a challenge, because what you said is really key: it’s the dialogue. It’s having that back and forth, both getting feedback and responding to players and fans. That is just straight up a challenge when you have a community as as big and varied as Magic is.

If you want to see what the feedback is, or the conversation is on something, it’s different if you’re on Twitter or Reddit or Instagram, or directly at an event like this. On the internet, no one’s afraid to call me names. Here, everyone’s amazing every time I talk to them. People come up and say they’re appreciative. It all depends. I think the important part is recognizing that there are a variety of opinions, and the prevailing opinion of the day on the internet or in person is not THE opinion. The challenge for us is to pull in all of the thoughts and questions and needs and favorite things, and try to figure out where to make the impact we can.

Speaking of impact, we’re here at the return of the Pro Tour. What went into making that announcement? It must have been a fun one to plan.

Blake Rasmussen: It was. We do a variety of announcements on my team, and there are some that I enjoy more because it’s just good news. It was almost a year ago at this point that we were talking about that, so it was a lot of work. It was a lot of background, and it was a lot of making sure that I and the other people who are communicating it knew what we were talking about. We talked to the Play team a lot. We worked with Billy Jensen and everyone on his team to make sure that we understood the system. And not only that we understood the system, but that we could communicate it clearly to everyone.

I was a journalist in another life, and the thing I liked about it is that you were constantly having to become an expert on a new subject. This was much the same thing. They were like, “Okay, we have this system. We’d like to announce it. Here you go.” Then we have to learn it, and we have to ask questions and learn the intricacies. We poke holes in it, like we expect the community’s going to, and then we have to figure out how to put it in a way that people will understand. We succeed in some areas, and other areas need refreshing afterwards.

That one was really exciting to put together, but it was also difficult because we announced the return of the Pro Tour in a year. It’s this super exciting announcement that for most people isn’t actionable at that time. Then you have to go about reminding people that this is coming, and it’s really cool. I think the results of this weekend have been fantastic. The stream was on Friday, which is generally the low point for the stream, and it was watched by 15,000 concurrent. There’s a lot of people watching.

You mentioned that there’s a lot of communication between the teams as part of your job. I feel like there might be this perception that when you’re hosting weekly MTG, you’ve got a couple of Cliff Notes and are just kind of riffing. How much day-to-day are you really communicating with each team? How hard are the shows to put together?

Blake Rasmussen: There’s some Cliff Notes and riffing; that does happen. I’ve been around and playing Magic long enough that I just happen to know a lot of stuff, which is part of my role. But at the same time, we’ll have meetings where I will get entire sheets of things in which people lay out all the details. We did a March of the Machine first look on Sunday, which is basically a weekly MTG on stage, and I got notes from all three of the guests. I get notes from the marketing lead; I get notes from the set leads and put that all together. Then I have to look through the card set so I understand everything. There’s a lot of background work that goes into it; the show is not a light lift.

Is there anything about weekly MTG that you’ve pitched or want to do, or any iterations of the show you’ve been trying to try to put forward?

Blake Rasmussen: The short answer is probably no, because it’s very much my show. I get to do essentially what I want. Now, that doesn’t mean there aren’t things that I would like to do that, for whatever reason, don’t make sense.

I’ll give you an example: I love Canadian Highlander. It’s a really niche format; it’s not something that really makes sense to dedicate a show to. But then we had this gladiator event on arena that Ben Wheeler was involved in, and he of course is super involved in Canadian Highlander. So, we did the show on that, and we just also spent some time talking about Canadian Highlander. I stick it in there every once in a while.

I have to keep in mind that, just because I like something doesn’t mean that 5000 people (or however many are tuning in that week), are going to like it as well. But generally speaking, if there’s something cool and fun that we want to do, and it fits in the schedule? I’m able to do it.

What are some of the challenges you face now that you’ve had more of a front-facing role as Communications Lead? Are there any problems that didn’t come up back when you were Editor-in-Chief?

Blake Rasmussen: I would say there’s more contact with negativity. That’s just part of it. It’s also the medium difference between Twitch and a website, where most of the time you look at an article and have to look for a byline. My picture was there, but it’s real small, and I didn’t get recognized. But with weekly MTG, obviously, I do get recognized some places. My favorites were in a grocery store and in the emergency room, which was a fun one. But they were delightful.

I’ll tell that story, just because it’s a funny story. My wife, when she was pregnant with our first child, hurt her hand. We had to go into the emergency room, and they’re doing intake. The doctor is asking my wife questions, and he just keeps looking at me. Finally, he goes, “Do I know you?” I had no clue who this guy was, and I didn’t know many doctors, so I was like, “I don’t know you.” My wife loves this kind of thing, so her face lit up. She’s bleeding from her hand, and she’s like, “Do you play Magic the Gathering?” He’s like, “Oh, yeah!” She loved that; it made her emergency room visit.

But for the most part, my interactions with fans in person are fantastic and amazing. People are super nice. And then online, there’s that veil. Everybody knows about the dangers of being online. I’ve had some weird, negative interactions that ultimately were harmless, but I’m also used to it at this point. I also think I’ve been doing this long enough that the community has recognized that who I am as a person and whatever I’m talking about are different things. Generally speaking, most people, even online and in Twitch chat, are respectful of that boundary and that line these days.

Is there anything about the way communication is currently going with the community that you would like to change?

Blake Rasmussen: It’s the beginning of the year. Actually, this dovetails nicely with we talked about our team goals and things we want to improve.

One of the things we’re trying to do is improve our response rate to people online; to random questions, to feedback, and to all of that stuff. We have a goal of doubling our response rate this year because we really do think that what fans want is to be heard. That’s really what they want: to be acknowledged, to be heard, to share their feedback, and to know someone’s listening. We need to do a better job on our end of creating that dialogue and saying, “Hey, we hear you. Here’s where we’re at right now, but we’ll take that back to the people who actually do those things.” That’s one part of it.

The other part that I would like people to know is that Wizards, like any company, has different sections of the company that do things. When we have guests on the stream, I’ll try to say, “Hey, keep your questions to this.” And that isn’t always where the questions track, but a lot of that time, what you have to recognize is that people ask the questions about the things they care about. They have this avenue to go to, and they think, “Yes, this person may only work on Tabletop, but I have this burning Arena question or concern or whatever.” And that goes back to making sure that people feel heard, because if they don’t, they’ll just keep saying it to whoever they can say it to.

On a lighter note, what’s the thing that you’re most looking forward to in 2023? This is obviously a very big year for Magic. We’re at the first Pro Tour, which is huge. What are we looking forward to going into the year?

Blake Rasmussen: Last week, I would have said the first Paper Pro Tour. I came up through coverage, so that’s massively nostalgic for me. I’ve wandered over there a few times. A lot of the people who work on broadcast and the coverage are still going strong. Rashad Miller is one of the unsung heroes of Pro Tour coverage and Grand Prix coverage, and there is an argument to be made that he invented it. He’s still up there doing Pro Tour coverage. I have such a special place in my heart for it.

But in 2023, I think the things I’m looking forward to most are the additional Magic Cons. These have been amazing so far, and we’re just getting better each time. In Philadelphia, there’s so much more space; we’ve got the mainstage down to a science, with tons of artists. The lines are all better, and the team is just improving every time, so the experience is getting better. I would definitely say Minneapolis, Barcelona, and Vegas are all going to be fantastic.

I’m also looking forward to Lord of the Rings. I can’t really say much about it, but it’s such a cool set. It is so cool. I’m not a super Lord of the Rings fan, but I’m at the stage where I’ve read The Silmarillion. It’s such a good set, and that’s one of the highlights for me. But we have a lot of cool stuff coming out this year that we’ll talk about when the time comes.

Are you able to say if there is a Silmarillion reference?

Blake Rasmussen: I am not able to say.

I was looking through your tweets, and Canadian Highlander seems like a very passionate format of yours. Go to bat for it. Why should people play Canadian Highlander?

Blake Rasmussen: Canadian Highlander has this very specific niche that I think is for older players. I was initially attracted to it because I could play all these cards I wanted to play that I had from back in the day that either didn’t work quite right in Commander, or were a little too spiky for playgroups. The first deck that I built for Canadian Highlander was a Grixus Control deck, and you can play things like Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time.

At the time I started playing Canadian Highlander, I didn’t have any power, but if you have power you can play it there. I think it scratches a very similar itch to cEDH, in that its high power level Singleton, which I think is important for a varied play experience. I think Singleton not only gives you a varied play experience, but it also lets you play with a wider swath of cards. I just had all these old cards I really wanted to play with, and when it’s Singleton, I can play with all of them. I don’t have to knock it down to, “four of this and four of that, and I can’t play with this card I really love because my list has got to be this tight.”

And I think the point system in Canadian Highlander is really innovative. For those who don’t know, Canadian Highlander doesn’t have a strict ban list there. There’s some cards that aren’t allowed in the format, but it essentially doesn’t have a ban list. Instead it has a 10-point system. Most cards are worth zero points, but the cards that in normal circumstances might be banned or restricted, have points assigned to them.

It’s this new level of deck building that forces you to adapt and really think about what you’re trying to do. If you use Ancestral Recall, that’s 7 points. And then if you want to play Mana Drain and Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time, that’s your points. You’re done; that’s 10. But if you want to play a wider spread, you can do that.

It lends itself to a lot of customization and deck building that feels reminiscent of commander but in a 1-on-1 competitive structure. All right, so I told you I could talk about probably necessary,

What does a successful weekend here for the Pro Tour look like to you? If you’re looking back on the weekend, what are the benchmarks?

Blake Rasmussen: The two biggest things are going to be the audience experience and the player experience. Are the people watching at home enjoying what they’re seeing? Did the broadcast go well? Did they enjoy watching the format? Did they interact with it? Are they seeing the players they want to see? You’ll be able to measure some of the at-home experience in viewership numbers, but you’ll also see it in social media sentiment, discussion, and that sort of thing.

And then the player experience is so important because we haven’t had one of these in forever. I don’t know if you saw it, but there was a comic strip made about LSV. His sign off was where he talked about all the things he loves about the Pro Tour and the weirdness and wildness of it, and that just that really hit the mark. I’m seeing a lot of positives from players who were like, “I don’t care how I do this weekend. I’m just so glad that this is back.” People get to see friends. People get to play high-level Magic and explore Pioneer as a format even more.

I think if we hit those two axes, where the fans at home really get the coverage experience that they’ve been wanting for a long time, and if the players on site are happy? Then I think we’re doing a good job.

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Source: Magic: The Gathering/YouTube

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