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This week I sat down with Peer from Mage, a marketplace to buy and sell nerd culture, starting with Magic: The Gathering cards. What I found fascinating about Mage's approach is that they realized that community would be key from the very beginning but also decided that they wouldn't start their own separate community. Instead, they would go to where Magic players already were and become a large part of the existing community in a variety of ways.
R (Rishab): First off, how did you come up with the idea behind Mage?
P (Peer): I've been playing Magic for 7 years so it's part of my identity. Soccer fans have a soccer team as part of their identity, and for me that was Magic. So it was always clear to me that I wanted to do something in this space. We started with a card scanner app because people have so many cards and it's hard to organize them so we used computer vision to scan the cards. But people kept asking us to integrate with a marketplace so they can sell their cards easily and we realized there was an opportunity there.
R: And at what point did you decide that community was important?
P: I think we knew it on the first day because it's just such a big community game. You obviously need other people to play with and Magic has always had a really large community around it. I know most of my friends through Magic, all of my international friends through Magic. Even with other founders, I have a bigger connection with them if they play Magic. So it was clear that we had to focus on community from the beginning.
We started out with Twitter, Instagram, and our blog – we roughly released 3 - 4 blog posts a week
R: What were the blog posts about?
P: It was strategy guides, deck lists, which products to buy, which players to follow, pro tour results, the top events... we started with the competitive scene. But you know, the competitive percentage of the community is rather small so we quickly decided to do a broader scope. Now, we sponsor influencers – some of them have no foothold on the competitive space. They stream, do cosplay, some of them just tweet memes about Magic and Mage.
R: So where do you see your community living today?
P: Twitter and Instagram. I think Twitter really took off when we had a team in the official Pro Tour Team Series [the primary competitive team league in Magic] that was playing Magic on the highest stage because the Pro Tour scene was heavily active on Twitter. And the players followed us so sponsoring one player would drive like 500 new followers.
R: Tell me a little more about sponsoring a Pro Tour team. How did that work?
P: So the Pro Tour Team Series was in 2018-2019 which was officially by Wizards [the publisher of Magic] and they were saying if you have a team of 6 players, you can register, upload your logo, and be present on the stream. We also had a cosponsor, which was mtgmintcard, one of the biggest stores in southeast Asia. Previously, we had already sponsored two of the best Danish players and they got their friends on board who were coincidentally also Danish. We ended up with the top 6 Danish players and they're all best friends. We essentially had a Danish national team sponsored by Mage which was very cool!
R: And so was the point just to get more exposure for Mage?
P: Yeah so they played the Grand Prix's and they played the major events. But what was good was that they built trust around the brand and increased the amount of eyeballs. The goal was to win the ProTour series – which was like 42 teams. At the end of the day, we placed 6th which is a pretty good result.
At the end of the season, some of the players became platinum, which is the highest ranking. Unfortunately, the official Pro Tour team series was discontinued. I feel like a lot of people loved following teams and I hope they bring back something similar in the near future. They stopped the Team Series to focus on individual competitions with the introduction of the MPL [Magic Pro League] featuring individual players, not teams or companies. Something I obviously disagree with as a company/team owner but yeah, that was basically the end of the Pro Tour Team Mage. We kept sponsoring one of the six to keep writing content for us.
R: The other thing I saw is that you haven't just been sponsoring players - you also sponsor Magic cosplayers. I haven't seen that before, why did you start doing that?
P: I think our plan was to go broad across the community from casual players to cosplayers to streamers to competitive players. We just want to have the whole vertical in the industry. One, to get more data – maybe we find a niche where we find a high concentration of fans. But two, also just promote the whole industry – give everyone a shot, give everyone a chance. We supported someone who had like 1k followers and then they won a tournament and blew up. Usually, we're the first to sponsor these players and sometimes they starting winning tournaments and grow to thousands of followers. We took some early risks and tried something new. Sometimes it worked out, sometimes it didn't. A big part of our sponsoring was engaging not-so-obvious voices in the community and taking a bet on them.
R: So it's mainly cosplayers and players?
P: Yeah. At peak we had sponsored about 14 people which was great because the whole community was just like "what is this?" They were just seeing Mage left and right. One of them is a hall of fame Magic player who's also one of the biggest streamers. Another is a woman who came out of nowhere and is just crushing it in tournaments and with followers. And some various streamers and various content creators.
R: Were you ever worried that it would be too much? That people might get annoyed?
P: I don't think so. At the end of the day, everyone is following so many people, the feed is so big – even with this many people posting, they'll probably only see 2 or 3 posts. Especially on Twitter, you can do many posts and not be annoying because of the algorithmic timeline. Once we decide to raise our marketing budget again, we could see having 20-40 influencers posting content.
R: What other ways have you tried to grow your community?
P: One thing we saw recently is a trend of people who post their #mtgmailday— I don't know where this trend came from, it's sort of a new thing. To show off what they've bought and which deck they're working on, they take a photo and share it on social media.
That was something that I found really interesting because it creates trust. You see the packaging, you see the cards, you see the condition of the cards. I saw a lot of people randomly posting pictures of their cards arriving and decided to integrate this into our marketing strategy.
We took it one step further where we put a sticker on our envelopes that said "Verified Authenticity" – because one of the big value adds we provide is that our experts research and verify the condition and prevent fakes. By putting that on the envelope – it's just a tiny thing, but when shared on social media, it creates more trust. The second thing is we put in this greeting card in the envelope which had a step-by-step plan on how you can win a discount code. You're supposed to layout the cards you bought on the table, show the verified sticker, take a photo and upload it to any social network and tag it #nofakes and tag @magemarket. We did this a week ago and we've already had a dozen people posting and showing off their cards. And then we just DM them, send them a code and then we retweet them so our timeline is just our users sending us photos of their cards.
R: So what's super interesting to me is you are a Magic card marketplace but all your community efforts are not around really buying or selling cards. It's around strategy guides, sponsoring the pro tour team, sponsoring cosplayers. You're not creating your own community, but becoming a large part of the already existing Magic community. Was that intentional?
P: Yeah, I mean the community and its structures were already built out. It was not like a new market coming up. If a new market, let's say Uber, launches tomorrow. Suddenly, there would be a new profession: driving for Uber. Now you can create a forum, a discord channel, whatever, to share advice and plan your routes – that would be the best thing to do as someone who wants to build a community from day one.
That's not the case for Magic. Magic has been around for over 25 years. We had to find a way to first copy what's working, i.e. content marketing and blog posts, but also find new ways like sponsoring cosplayers to be unique in that way.
R: Awesome, thanks a ton Peer - really appreciate you taking the time.
P: Thank you for having me!