“The fight is won or lost far away from the witnesses –
behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road,
long before I dance under those lights.”
– Muhammad Ali
This is the second of a series of three articles concerning the changes to Pro Tour qualification, and will focus on the impact of these changes on traveling to and testing for events. You can find the first in the series here.
Traveling to PPTQs
The localised nature of these events will reduce travel costs, which makes taking the train to events a much more viable option. It should end up being the case that if you live in most parts of the country you will have access to an event which is relatively close each weekend of the season.
At this stage – without an actual time table – it is difficult to be more precise than this, but it makes sense that with more events running you will have a better chance of one being close on a given weekend. This should make it more viable for people to attend multiple events, allowing you more chances of winning one and going to the next stage.
It is also really good for anyone who works at the weekend because they’re not as badly impacted by not being able to change shifts, or get someone to cover — they should be able to find a Saturday or Sunday that suits them best. Before, if someone lived in the north of the country for instance, and they had to work the weekend of the Liverpool and Manchester PTQ, they would probably be looking at traveling 5+ hours for a PTQ, assuming they didn’t want to get in a plane.
What all this means is that you might well be spoiled for choice, so it makes sense to work out how many events you realistically want/can afford to play and planning for that, rather that trying to work out which particular events you can make it to.
Spreading the Love
Probably the most relevant issue for most people is that this will spread out the better players over multiple events. For instance, if there is an event in London and Leeds on a given weekend Rob Catton doesn’t need to worry about losing to Rob Wagner in the finals of his event, or vice versa.
It makes a lot of sense for the best players to travel to different events where possible as well. So for instance, if there is a qualifier in Sheffield and Manchester, I’ll ask Rob which he is attending (because they’re roughly equidistant to Leeds) and go to the one he *doesn’t* go to. This is bad in that it means I won’t see some of the people I like – because I’ll actively be trying to avoid them – but much rather that than knock them out in the top 8, or even worse, be knocked out by them.
I would even go as far as to say that if a city is fortunate enough to have multiple cars going to events on a given weekend, they should do their best to split the cars up so that they’re pretty close in terms of skill, and then go to different tournaments. These changes basically guaranteed that I would be pushing to get my driving licence as soon as possible, so that I could contribute to this, but also to make sure that I could pick and choose where I can go.
I think this is genuinely very important; it sounds like a lot of messing around for little benefit, but it will be a pretty good feeling when you get back home after winning one, and the other car from your city did too… and a really bad feeling when you knock out the driver of the car in the win and in, only to lose the semis.
It also makes sense to travel to little out-of-the-way locations where possible. Manchester’s event will be massive, as will London’s, while the more rural ones may be significantly smaller.
There will be more Standard ones than anything else, which means that you allow yourself more chances and more flexibility by testing for and attending the Standard ones. Playing Friday Night Magic is more worthwhile than it was before, because you can practise spiking little events. But mostly these will come down to keeping an eye on the way Standard is developing any time within 6 weeks of the qualifying season, and testing appropriately.
So for instance, for the first 2 of those weeks perhaps you just watch what happens. Then you start testing the decks yourself, with some idea of what is likely to beat what, and about 2 weeks before, having played the games and kept watching, you choose the deck that will make sense for the event you’re going to play, factoring in anything you know about the local metagame.
The main difference between what I am suggesting here and what I would have said before is that you choose when you’re going to play your events – it’s no longer 7 fixed occasions to choose from – which means that you are in a better position to organize things so that you will be able to test well, and go in prepared. You needn’t really be caught off guard again by an early local PTQ, for instance.
This means that you will likely have pretty intense periods of play because you’ll win far more of these than you will win PTQs, meaning that you will be able to take it easy with no events to play more often. But because you can pick your battles, you should be spending more time in the lead up to them preparing.
You can also just abort a format mid-season if you feel you can’t win a game in that format, and just try Sealed, or Modern (assuming you started with Standard). There have definitely been times when I have wanted to do this in the past; historically I have underperformed in Modern tournaments, and there have been sealed formats where I couldn’t seem to catch a break.
Because you’re likely to be playing loads of standard – along with just about everyone else – it makes sense to just buy the standard cards early in the season. If you don’t, you’re going to have to spend loads of time trying to borrow them, and a lot of the people who you would normally borrow from who don’t travel to PTQs will likely be playing the PPTQs because they are abundant and close. You’ll also struggle to borrow them from people who live further away because they are probably playing a different tournament to you.
These are going to be pretty different from the current PTQs in some pretty major ways. Firstly, because you have a lot more time to prepare for the event, you will be able to have a really nicely tuned list of your deck, a good knowledge of your sideboarded games, and be confidant that your 75 cards are pretty close to correct.
Secondly, because there is only one of these each season, people will likely tend towards consistent decks. This will be compounded by the tendency of better players to prefer lower variance decks anyway. This opens up the possibility of playing something which will exploit this tendency, and trying to spike the tournament. Fortune favours the brave, and all that.
Thirdly, they are going to be a fair bit smaller. This actually favours risky decks, too, in my opinion. If an event is 5 rounds, playing an explosive red deck and expecting to go 4-1 or 5-0 isn’t that bad, but going 6-1 or 7-0 is tougher. If you need to go 9-0, then you’re probably not accomplishing it with the consistent deck either, so it starts to make more sense to play a deck with more variance again. I know a lot of people would disagree with this, and the topic could be an article on its own, but at the moment I think this is right – although I change my mind about it from time to time.
If I needed to go 5-1-1 or 5-2 in the Swiss portion, I think I would generally prefer to be playing a control deck than a red deck, unless I thought the red deck in question was totally sick, in which case I’d sleeve the mountains up quicker than it takes to tell about it – people just don’t take aggro seriously enough.
There is also some potential for taking your knowledge from the Regional PTQ and using it in the next PPTQs to take advantage of a (smaller attendance) non-standard event. This is a judgement call, and I’m not sure how things would need to look for me to play Sealed over Standard, for instance.
Top 8ing one of these is a massive accomplishment; they’re massive events with big prizes and they attract some of the top players in the world. I’ve not played that many – 20 or so in 18 years – but that’s mostly been a matter of expense, and unfortunate timing. I’ve booked flights and not gone before. I’ve also gone, and not been able to get the cards I needed to play before. If things had been a little different, then I would have been at more for sure.
As it turns out, things probably are different enough now. Firstly if you have 2250 Planeswalker points from last year, you have 2 byes. Secondly there are more of them – 56 instead of 44. Thirdly they award flights as well as prize money to the top 8.
Oh, and England has 2 this year.
Because the PPTQs are more flexible, and because of the reduced cost in both time and money that I expect to experience with the new system, GPs are looking a lot more appealing. In the next few weeks, I’m going to work out which ones I want to go to and check the costs of flights, then I’m going to ask a few people which they fancy, and then I will probably just book flights, even if the event is a year from now. Naturally these flights will cost a lot less than they would a couple of months before the event.
It makes sense to try and play the Standard ones because you’re going to play a lot of Standard anyway. But if you fancy playing a different one, you will need to test for that, so perhaps it makes sense to either play the Modern one which corresponds with the Modern Regional PTQ, or change your PPTQ’s to the Modern ones around that time.
It seems to me that the new system rewards good planning, and consideration of testing crossover. Even if you’re gutted about the new system, you should be trying to think about how you want your year in magic to look now.
That’s it for this week – next week I’ll share some thoughts on the impact of the new system for judges and tournament organisers. For this reason, I would be interested in hearing what judges and tournament organisers think about this, so if you have some thoughts, please share them in the comments below.
All the best,