For as long as I can remember, regular PTQ players have been known as ‘Grinders’.
The reason the tag fits so neatly is simple: qualifying for the Pro Tour can be repetitive, brutal and exhausting.
Players don’t only have to worry about preparing for and performing in events – they’re also obliged to consider the time, energy and financial resources which go into travelling to each of them.
Once those factors are accounted for, modern-day Grinders must contend with exceptionally large tournaments. Attendances of more than 300 are growing commonplace at UK PTQs – and the bigger they grow, the more likely it is that a tie-breaker, or a bad mulligan will cost a competitor their shot at the single blue envelope on offer.
Faced with these barriers to entry, many PTQ players end up tired, disheartened and pretty skint. Isn’t there a better way? they ask.
Well, now there is.
A short time ago, Wizards of the Coast announced far-reaching changes to their Organised Play programme.
Intrigued? Let’s run through the key points:
Those are some serious changes. But what do they actually mean for the players?
In the current season, if a player wanted to attend a selection of UK PTQs from Manchester, here’s a run-down of the trips they’d be facing:
Luckily, they’d have one PTQ in their backyard, with another one a short hop away in Liverpool. But if they couldn’t qualify in two shots, it would be time to hit the road in a serious way.
Under the new system, access to the PTQ ladder is much easier to achieve. Not only is a player almost guaranteed to have a hometown event – if there’s an Advanced store nearby, all they have to do is sign up to run a Preliminary and it will happen – but they’re far more likely to have multiple tournaments within easy reach, as major cities might potentially hold 2-3 Preliminaries per season.
Plenty of PTQ players have experienced the frustration of travelling long distances to scrub out of an event just a few rounds in; they can, for the most part, kiss goodbye to that feeling.
Instead, their pattern of attendance will switch to incorporate multiple smaller tournaments within relatively easy reach. From Glasgow, for instance, it would be quite feasible to attend 5 Preliminaries while driving less aggregate miles than are involved in a single trip to Amersham.
There may still be one serious road trip per season to contend with, but that’s a vast improvement on 6 or 7.
At a stroke, Advanced stores are now empowered to run 4 new, meaningful competitive tournaments every year; what’s more, they can choose-their-own-format in order to create the widest possible appeal for their player base.
That second point is huge: I’ve seen real-life examples of the attendance disparity between tournaments running a popular constructed format and those with a less well-loved sealed deck format. Being able to dodge such pitfalls should put a smile on the faces of many a store owner.
In the vast majority of cases, what’s good for stores is good for the Magic community – so these elements are good news for all of us.
Last, but not least, this system delivers a highly attractive competitive event for the most skilful and committed players.
Over the last year, I’ve spoken to serious competitors who openly admitted that they wouldn’t bother going to a PTQ with more than 300 players. With 299 or more players destined to go home empty handed, they told me that the trip to such an event couldn’t be justified.
Contrast this with the Regional PTQ system:
Multiple chances to qualify, at more manageably-sized tournaments, are now on offer. The strongest players in each area will likely fancy their chances of making it to the Regional event.
Once there, they no longer face such gruelling odds: a projected 1 in 25 players will walk away with a Blue Envelope, with a similar number receiving free passes to the next Regional PTQ.
That’s a huge improvement – and if they manage to get 128 players to attend, 1 in 16 will be qualifying! I can imagine my local spikes salivating at the prospect.
But the news doesn’t end there: Wizards have also restructured their GP programme.
These changes are perhaps less striking than those made to PTQs, but they’ll still have a material impact. What conclusions can we draw from them?
The first major take-away from this revamp is that WotC is escalating the importance of GPs as a qualifying route for the Pro Tour.
In their last round of changes, Wizards stripped qualifying slots out of the Grand Prix system; this time, in response to the exploding popularity of the GP circuit, they’ve reinstated them and more.
If a player puts up 13 wins at a GP, this announcement says, we think they deserve to go to the Pro Tour…even if they happen to attend an enormous event where more than 8 people have a chance to do the same.
Players will now receive invitations – and Pro Points – on a basis which much more accurately reflects the quality of their performances, rather than wafer-thin differences in tie-breakers.
I think this is a great idea. Tournaments are supposed to be meritocratic; any steps which reward great records and mitigate the cruelty of tie-break splits are fine by me.
Wizards has also announced changes to the Pro-players club, including the so-called ‘GP Cap’ on Pro Points. I haven’t tackled them, because they affect such a small amount of players, but all the details are available here.
What do you make of the changes?
My take on these changes is simple: I think they’re generally a pretty good thing, opening up the PTQ system to more players, reducing travel bills and rewarding stellar performances at GPs.
Of course, that’s just one person’s opinion.
What do you think of the changes? What kind of player are you, and how does that influence your feelings?
Share your thoughts in the comments thread – we’re eager to know what the overhaul of organised play means to you.