Selling Magic Through Spellslingers

Curator's Note

Geek & Sundry, launched in 2012, promotes a range of geeky pastimes, with tabletop gaming featured in several of the channel’s series. In TableTop, one of the channel's most popular shows, Star Trek alum Wil Wheaton plays board games with cult celebrity guests. This formula is mirrored in Spellslingers, hosted by Sean Plott. Plott, known by his online alias Day[9], is a former professional StarCraft player and popular streamer, and in each episode he duels a guest in a game of Magic: The Gathering. Guests have included Geek & Sundry co-founder Felicia Day, The Legend of Korra’s Janet Varney, Mythbuster’s Grant Imahura, and former football player Chris Kluwe.

As a promotional paratext, Spellslingers is an example of what Jonathan Gray (2010) terms an “entryway paratext.” Plott--with off-screen assistance from Magic designer Gavin Verhey (credited as “On Set Magic Representative”)--works to make Magic and its decades of rules and backstory legible and appealing to a general geek audience. This is accomplished through on-screen graphics explaining rules, as well as cutaways of Plott and the guest reacting to the game. Plott’s goofy persona and self-deprecating humor keep the tone light and casual, helping to make the potential daunting world of Magic more accessible (and thus, more purchasable).

Episodes of Spellslingers run between twenty to thirty minutes long; in the interest of brevity I have chosen to feature a Gag Reel video. This set of outtakes comes from the second episode of Spellslingers, with Bobak Ferdowsi, a NASA engineer who gained viral fame during the Curiosity Rover landing. As a paratext to the already paratextual Spellslingers, the Gag Reels showcase gaffes and flubbed lines, while disclosing the coaching that guests (and, at times, Plott) require to appear conversant in Magic on-camera. This Gag Reel includes several revealing moments. Opening with an embarrassed Plott admitting he has forgotten Ferdowsi’s name (despite Plott claiming guests as “his friends”), the outtakes feature Ferdowsi refusing (good-naturedly) to accept that the official Magic terminology Plott employs is “cool,” and several references to competing card games: a sequence that bleeps out an inadvertent mention of Pokemon, and a bit where Plott mimics a stereotypical Yu-Gi-Oh player. Plott’s jab reveals a hierarchy of acceptable geekiness—Spellslingers works hard to demystify and naturalize the player practices of Magic, whereas Yu-Gi-Oh is reinforced as suspect and othered.

Work Cited: Jonathan Gray, Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts (New York: NYU Press, 2010).


Hi Nick, thanks for your post. This video series is interesting to me precisely because it models the various behaviors of players, but also how it does so within the context of Magic's color wheel. My favorite episode is with mixed martial artist Josh Barnett who is a fairly serious player, but also someone you would not expect to play. Without surprise he aligns himself with Black/Red builds, one of the game's most aggressive color combinations, which of course trades on his personality as this hulking jock.

Thanks this contribution, Nick! Your point about accessibility as a gateway for purchasing product is essential. It would be interesting to find out if Geek and Sundry get any sponsorship or funding from the games that are featured.

I would definitely be interested to know precisely what sort of sponsorship or money comes into play for Spellslingers and other G&S series. Episodes of the first season of Spellslingers end with Day[9] ceremoniously presenting his guests with a gift bag of recent Magic products. Was that practice axed in later seasons, or was it decided not to present viewers with this exchange of goods?

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