Wisdom Fae Under the Bridge – Playing PTQs Vs Playing GPs by Graeme McIntyre

Wisdom Fae Under The Bridge – The Impact of the Growth of Magic the Gathering for UK PTQ Grinders

Wisdom Fae Under the Bridge – Playing PTQs Vs Playing GPs by Graeme McIntyre

I didn’t attend the recent Grand Prix in London. At the time I decided not to go it was basically a cop-out; I couldn’t really be bothered going to London to play sealed deck and practice for it, because this would either need to happen on top of modern testing or replace it, neither of which seemed like particularly viable options. I reasoned that I could spend the money to go to the London PTQ instead. This was rationalisation for being a bit lazy, but as the weekend progressed and I checked my friend’s progress, I thought about it more, and I’m pretty comfortable in saying that what I did is the course of actions which is most likely to meet with my goals (e.g. getting on the Pro Tour).

Score needed to top 8 in a GP vs a PTQ

To play day two of a European GP will require 7 wins 2 losses or better on day one and 5 wins and a draw will probably see you into the top 8 for constructed, while you’ll probably need to convert a loss into a win in limited (bigger tournament, so more rounds).

peter griffin just won a PTQ bannerThis is the same as going to two separate tournaments over a weekend and putting up a great – not like “good enough to top 8”, but top of the standings – score in each. It doesn’t really matter how good you are, expecting to do this is pretty unrealistic. This is why increasingly top 8’s at GPs are full of unknowns (who are no doubt reasonable/good/better than me magic players) instead of pros; as a tournament gets bigger it becomes more likely that statistical maths will explain the situation better than the common sense idea that “good players win a lot”.

If you take a player who is very good and has a 70% win percentage, that one person has a 30% chance of losing in each round (obviously). Over 16 rounds, they’ll lose slightly over 4.5 rounds on average, and not top 8. This isn’t taking into account the fact that small samples have higher standard deviation and are as such more likely to be subject to variance, or that not that many people even have a 70% win percentage.

However, if you take 200 people with 50% win percentage, that’s slightly over 10% of the field (assuming London), so it’s likely that someone will do well out of that number. When people say “give 1000 monkeys type writers, and in 1000 days they’ll create the works of William Shakespeare”, this is what they’re on about. With big samples, you create out-layers, people who deviate from the norm, on both sides. There will be a guy in that sample of 200 who went 0-7, and will be wondering what happened.

PTQ pinAt a PTQ in the UK, you can expect 8 rounds of swiss followed by a top 8. Generally, this means that you need to go 6-1-1 to make top 8, and then you need to go 3-0. In terms of win-loss ratio, it would appear that it’s easier to top 8 a GP than win a PTQ. But if you look at a draft, you need to go 3-0 to win that, which is a 100% wins vs slightly under 90%, yet it is much harder to win a PTQ than it is to win a draft. There are far more rounds in a GP, enough more that it’s a lot like playing two back to back tournaments, as I said before.

The first PTQ I won, I went 4-2 in the swiss and got in on tiebreakers, then 3-0 in the draft, so 7-2, the score required to even play the second day. Obviously, it’s much harder to win a PTQ now, but this is still noteworthy. It would be like winning a small PTQ, then going 6-0 in the limited section of nationals, or something.

If a PTQ has 150 players, and offers 1 slot, then 1/150 people qualify. If a GP has 2000 players, and 8 slots, then 1/250 qualifies. While this stat is misleading, in that not everyone actually has an equal chance, it is worth considering that it is also the important state to Wizards of the Coast, who are largely unconcerned by who wins. If you’re thinking of travelling to a large number of tournaments, it becomes relevant to you as well, in that while you might think you’ve got a better chance than the mean GP player of top 8ing a GP, it’s likely that if you think this that you also think you have a better chance of winning a PTQ than the average PTQ player.

Assuming you think that the average player at a GP is roughly the same as the average player at a PTQ (which I think is a fair assumption) then you assume that you’re better than 90% of people at these events (which probably isn’t), then you have 1/15 to win a PTQ and 1/25 to win a GP. The only way that the GP becomes better in these terms is if you think GPs are substantially easier than PTQs, in which case the chances of you winning change disproportionately.

Even if this is the case, you need to consider the number of rounds, and how this will impact on your chances, as mentioned above.

Costs of travelling to GP’s vs PTQ’s

travel luggageI discussed travelling to magic tournaments on a budget a while back, so won’t go over that again. It’s generally cheaper to travel to tournaments in your own country, because this means you can drive (ideally) or use busses/trains (not ideal), or fly (far from ideal). All of these things become more expensive and take longer the further away you want to go. The UK only gets 1 GP a year, and it’s typically in London or Birmingham. The rest are dotted around Europe, often not in places that are particularly easy to get to, meaning multiple changes and a fair bit of hassle.

GPs are held over two days, and have registration the day before, meaning you’re staying 2-3 days. There are a couple of PTQs which I can travel to and potentially stay zero days most seasons (although I rarely do – very long days, not fair on the driver, etc), but only the London or Irish PTQ would realistically require me to stay two days.

There is also a temptation to stay longer to see the place you’re going. The more of this you do, the thinner your wallet is going to get. Personally I rarely stay extra time at GPs, leading to a situation where I’ve travelled to a reasonable number of places, and couldn’t say much about them, having seen the venue, the hotel and the airport.

Time testing for GPs Vs PTQ’s

TimetwisterWhile it doesn’t take longer to test for a GP, there is only one, so the application of the knowledge you gain from testing is far more limited. They’re also generally not the same format as the PTQ season they’re in, so you can’t “double up”. This means that it’s very time consuming to test for both, which is disruptive to the people you test with, particularly so if you choose to test for the GP over the PTQ season. Things change so quickly that you can’t really just not bother for a few weeks.

GP functionality

That said, GPs are big events and loads of people go to them, even people who don’t bother with the PTQ season anymore. There is also some opportunity to see some pros and stuff. Socially and in terms of having a good experience, GPs are pretty good. I think going for these reasons makes a fair bit of sense. However, as they are at the moment I don’t think they offer enough in terms of either cash or chances of qualifying for the PT.

Anyway, that’s all for the moment. While I attempted to avoid errors in the maths of this article, it is possible that some crept in. please be gentle!

small thumbs upGraeme McIntyre



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Graeme McIntyre
I've been playing magic since the end of Rath Block, and I've been a tournament regular since Invasion Block. I started studying for a PhD in Sociology at University of Leicester in 2017. I was born In Scotland, but moved to Nottingham three years ago, seeking new oppertunities both academic and magical. I play regularly with David Inglis, Alastair Rees and Neil Rigby. I've been on 5 Pro Tours the 2016 English World Cup Team, and Scottish 2003 European Championship Team, but what I really bring to the table is experience. I've played 136 Pro Tour Qualifiers, 18 Grand Prixs, 11 National Championships, 13 World Magic Cup Qualifers, 51 Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifiers and more little tournaments than I can remember. More than anything else, my articles are intended to convey the lessons of this lived experience. Likes - robust decks, be they control, midrange, beatdown or combo. Cryptic Commands, Kird Apes and Abzan Charms. Dislikes - decks that draw hot and cold. Urza's Tower, Life From the Loam and Taigam's Scheming.