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Truly Magical Television

Ladies and gentlemen, there is way too much stuff on TV.

Need proof? Let us examine the television offerings for Tuesday, November 23 at 10 p.m. More specifically the programming choice of ESPN2, the bastard child of ESPN that showcases cheerleading competitions, rodeos and dog shows, yet still has the temerity to suggest it is The Worldwide Leader in Sports.

And how did ESPN2 attempt to justify its claim as The Worldwide Leader in Sports? By televising the 1999 Magic: The Gathering World Championships.

Magic: The Gathering, for those of you who don't spend your free time debating whether Tasha Yar could kick Seven of Nine's ass, is a card game. Think of it as Dungeons & Dragons for those lacking the athletic prowess to throw dice.

Football is a sport, my friends. As are baseball, soccer, fencing and dwarf tossing. Those are suitable fodder for The Worldwide Leader in Sports. Even in a world where ballroom dancing qualifies as an Olympic event and the X Games makes heroes out of bungee jumpers, the Magic Championships just goes too damn far.

There is no possible argument for Magic as a sport. None. If someone says, "But Magic players exercise their minds," I'll start throwing punches. Baseball teams might get away with having one or two Fernando Valenzuelas on a roster, but the entire U.S. Magic team makes Terry Forster look like a Calvin Klein Bikini Briefs model.

What, you weren't aware that the U.S. even had a National Magic Team? And you call yourself a patriot? The fact of the matter is that the U.S. Magic team kicks butt. We've won four world championships, this latest one the result of our thrashing of a plucky yet outgunned German team.

As U.S. team member Charles Kornbluth put it, "It's an honor just to be here at the championships, representing the U.S." By golly, here's a kid going all out for his country. Move over, Mary Lou Retton. Get this guy a Wheaties box, pronto!

Of course, the Germans didn't take the loss very well and promised to do something about it. Apparently they've hired a new general manager, the former East German swimming coach, who has enlisted the help of some of his old friends. Already there are rumblings about a promising rookie, the world's first elite female player, an ex-East Berliner named Olga who can cast Cursed Scrolls left and right, bench press 400 pounds and has a voice like Barry White.

But this year belonged to the good ol' U.S. of A. Bringing the action to us were play-by-play commentators Brian and Chris, neither of whom were ever shown on camera, probably because they are slightly older versions of Harris and Bill from "Freaks and Geeks." There even was a cheery sideline reporter named Todd, who actually did appear on camera. Todd looked a lot like you expect TV personalities except for his death grip on the microphone and the thousand-yard stare in his eyes that said, "This was not what I had in mind when I applied to work for ESPN."

Unfortunately, I missed the first couple of matches, but managed to tune in for the crucial slugfest between American Kyle Rose and German Marco Blume. This was Rose's match to lose, yet he almost fumbled away his chances.

Presented with what was apparently a rather good hand, Brian or Chris seemed to think the match was in the bag. "As you know, a turn four wildfire can be very devastating." Well, duh! Thank you so much, Captain Obvious.

Yet Rose didn't see it that way and evidently made some sort of mistake that sent both Brian and Chris into a fit of hyperactive chimp chatter. "A lot of people would have played a cursed scroll there!" "I don't see the point of playing a mountain wild card!"

From Honolulu to Martha's Vineyard, a nation held its breath. Would Kyle Rose cost us the championship because of his boneheaded mountain wild card? Curse you, Kyle Rose! A pox on your first born!

But Blume was just as incompetent and quickly screwed things up even worse. When it was all over, Rose had taken the match three games to one and we were treated to an instant replay of Blume's tragic mistake. You've never seen instant replay until you've seen Magic: The Gathering instant replay.

"Blume played a City of Traitors and couldn't wildfire," the announcers explained somberly. The camera zoomed in slow-motion as Blume lowered the fatal card to the table. "It was a devastating mistake that doomed him." Indeed it was. Joe Theismann's shattered leg and Marco Blume's City of Traitors. Two images burned into my mind forever.

The subject of injuries didn't come up but I can imagine such thoughts must weigh heavily on the minds of the players. A really nasty one must be a godawful mess, made all the more repugnant by incessant replays from a dozen camera angles. "Oh, dear lord in heaven! He's torn his City of Traitors almost completely in half! The trainers are rushing out with the Scotch tape, but frankly Brian, I don't think there's much they can do!"

With the Rose-Blume match decided, the U.S. championship hopes rested on the ample shoulders of Zvi Moshowitz. Surely you've heard of Zvi Moshowitz. Creator of the Zvi Bargain deck? Yes, that Zvi Moshowitz.

Evidently, each player can pick and choose the cards in his Magic deck. Moshowitz's Zvi Bargain is one humdinger of a deck, according to Brian and Chris. "Zvi's Bargain is one of the most difficult decks in the world to play well. Moshowitz is one of only a few top players confident enough to play this deck," they pronounced.

What the hell are these cards made of? Plastic explosives? While that would have made for a much more exciting television experience, sadly, it was not to be. With all the hype surrounding him, I expected Zvi, dressed head-to-toe in leather, to come charging onto the playing floor through a wall of fog and lasers while "Bad to the Bone" played at ear-bleeding decibels.

But there was no was taunting of the audience, no beautiful bikini-clad girls getting into hair-pulling fights, no folding chair violence. Instead there was only Zvi, a man who probably waddles a lot more than he charges, already sitting down, ready to face off against his bitter rival, Germany's David Brucker.

But this match was a laugher from the start. As everyone knows, Brucker's Living Death deck "is historically weak against combo decks" like Zvi's Bargain. Within a couple minutes, it was obvious Moshowitz-Brucker would be the fantasy card game equivalent of Tyson-Spinks.

Just a couple minutes into the brouhaha, Brian and Chris were already all atwitter. "Ladies and gentlemen, we could be watching a turn two kill here!" And just like that, it was all over. Delusions of Mediocrity -- bam! Mox diamonds -- crunch! Blaze spell -- pow! And Brucker is down for the count!

You could almost hear Al Michaels screaming "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!" The only thing missing was the US team's hosting of Moshowitz onto their shoulders for a victory lap. Then again, judging from Moshowitz's Michelin Man physique, that was probably for the best.

Who needs football or baseball now? The next generation of athletic heroes are the ones who stay at home, avoiding sunlight, physical fitness and social interaction. Thank goodness the Worldwide Leader in Sports will be there covering every single Magic championship and Quake Deathmatch.

Of course, there's some work that still needs to be done before Magic: The Gathering can become a true television spectacle. There's no halftime show and precious few opportunities for blimp shots. And where are the obnoxious celebrations? You slam down a Scroll of Monkeys, you dance, dammit! Cheerleaders would be a big improvement, too. Maybe dressed in "Star Trek" uniforms.

And who will bring all of this to you ? The Worldwide Leader in Sports, of course. Can ESPN's Magic: The Gathering Primetime be far behind?


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