“Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.” – Bob Dylan.
The Times They Are a-Changin’
Starting in December, there won’t be PTQs. You can read about the new event structure here. There will be preliminaries, and any store with advanced status will be allowed to run one of these during each Pro Tour season. Anyone in the world can play in as many of these as they like and those who win one will be entitled to play in one of the Regional Qualifiers.
There will be Regional Qualifiers all over the world, but the ones that concern the UK will be the ones in Europe, naturally. There will be 8 of them in Europe, and the top 4 (in an event with less than 128 people) or top 8 (events with 128 people or more) will qualify for the corresponding Pro Tour.
These are exciting times, and I think almost everything is going to change for the old PTQ grinders. They won’t be able to go to PTQs, for a start. This article – which will consider the pros and cons of the changes largely from the perspective of a PTQ grinder – will be the first in a series of articles, each focusing on a different element of the game which is affected.
I’ve thought for a while that the system didn’t really work, and I thought that within a few years that would need to be addressed with a structural change. It’s worth pointing out that I really, really like playing cards competitively. it’s deeply important to me and I couldn’t just chill out and play casually.
The Initial Shock
So when I checked Facebook on Monday morning, and it looked like every other Magic player I knew was getting ready to throw themselves off a bridge over “changes” to the PTQ system, I was immediately filled with dread – clearly the changes were not going to be like the models which have been pitched over the last year or so which I was hoping for.
When I read that it was all going to come down to *one* event per season, I was crushed. I read through the rest, not fully getting it, and then sat there for a bit. I expect it’s a similar feeling to an athlete being told that their latest injury was going to be the one that pushed them over the hill.
Then I got up and ran the water for a shower, and thought “Jesus wept, they actually killed the golden goose. The game makes loads of money, it’s so successful now compared to then, why would you kill the goose?”. I’m not even over-dramatising this.
Thing is, I felt this hopeless, crushed way about this time last year. I’d just been declined a PHD place in Glasgow and my stepbrother had passed away, among other things. Once I got over the shock, I worked out what to do, pitched it to Kirsty (my ever-understanding better half), and now I live just shy of 300 miles away in a different country, surrounded by like-minded people, having just recently played on the Pro Tour again for the first time in a long time. Change needn’t be a bad thing.
Breaking Down the Changes
So what effects will these changes have? Here are my thoughts on all changes good and bad.
The Bad – Variance
Good Magic players tend to be pretty wary of randomness, luck and variance. We want things to be predictable, because then we can simply manipulate resources better than our opponents, and come out ahead. There is safety in being able to write off a bad tournament with “whatever, there are 6 more. Sometimes you just lose.
So naturally I was – and still am a bit – unhappy with the idea that I could just get flooded game one, lose to a top deck game two, then get a bad match up next round, and that’s three months’ work down the drain.
What we forget though, is that we are simply not likely to win tournaments without luck, or randomness, or variance. The best players in the world win about 70% of the time at their best, during a streak. Let’s say – generously – that I am 65% to win a match going into a contemporary PTQ. To win I need to go 10-1-1 or similar. If I win 65%, and draw say 5%, I lose three games on average, and don’t even make top 8.
In a Regional Qualifier with 130~ people I’ll be playing 8 rounds, where 6 wins and 2 losses with good tiebreakers will sometimes be good enough, and once I do that I’m done. I don’t need to fight through another three rounds against some of the best players in the room. If you top 8 multiple PTQs per season, you should be happy – you’re only going to need to do that once, now. If you top 8 one in six, you’re going to the pro tour every 18 months on average.
That’s not awful. In fact, it’s double what I’ve averaged. It assumes we will get 128 people, but I think we will probably after the first one, because people can travel. There are 8 qualifiers and more than 8 countries…I clearly don’t know this for sure, but I strongly expect that these events will end up being 128+ people. If not, you could always travel to one of the better attended ones – it’s probably a minor difference in cash for most people.
The Bad – Standard-centric
While TOs are allowed to choose Modern, Sealed or Standard for these events, there is a strong incentive to choose Standard with an eye to increasing attendance, and making money. This is further compounded by the fact that the players know this, and as such will be testing Standard, and looking for Standard events to play, meaning that they will probably choose a Standard qualifier over a Modern or Sealed one as a result.
So we go from a situation where every few months you need to drop what you were doing and play a new format, to a situation where you could actually just play the same deck for a whole year unless something got banned.
I think I’d be pretty upset if I had just invested in Modern this year. I’m actually a bit tempted to sell my Modern cards – right now, they would pay for somewhere between half and 2 thirds of the fees for a PHD, and I’m not convinced they will do that in a year’s time anymore.
The Bad – Runner Runner Events.
It’s a bit of a worry that you might not qualify, and this is made worse depending on where you live. Being in the middle is really good, as it was for PTQs, but even more so now because loads of relatively small places which didn’t get PTQs will get preliminaries. Being on the extremities is difficult. London will no doubt get access to quite a lot of events within a 2 hour journey, but the closer to London they are, the bigger they will be.
Scotland is in pretty bad shape, because they’ve only got about 5 shops which will get to run these events at the moment, and far more good players than that. A real effort to travel will be required, and they can only travel south. Ireland is in a similar situation, with the added hurdle that there is a sea in the way.
This is my biggest problem with the new system.
The Good – 1 more slot locally
I think the UK will get one of the Regional Qualifiers each season. This is because we are an island, which makes it pretty expensive for us to get to other places, and because our PTQs are double the size of the French ones, for instance. I think we deserve access, and I think this will be recognised. Our island status might limit the number of international players who travel here, but hopefully not so much that we only send 4 people.
I expect that the two GPs assigned to the UK this year have been assigned with the intent of incentivising international players to spend a week in the UK, playing a Regional Qualifier or a GP at the start and at the end of their trip. Maybe the first one or two won’t be, but I expect in the long run we will have 128+ playing in the UK.
If this is true, we actually end up with an additional person qualifying each season compared to the PTQs. I’d have been really happy to see another PTQ allocated to the UK, and this seems roughly equivalent.
The Good – Increased Player Quality
This tiered system is going to teach players that they need to step up if they want to go to the Pro tour. This is because the actual event that qualifies for the Pro Tour will be formed exclusively from players who have won a tournament to get there, so the events themselves will be harder.
This is good for two reasons. Firstly the Regional Qualifier will be more challenging to play, which will be a better experience (a least from my point of view). Secondly it means that when you qualify the other people going from your country will also be pretty good, which means you have a more realistic chance of teaming up and doing well at the Pro Tour.
The Good – Cheaper
Because the events will be more local, you won’t need to spend as much money on petrol and eating out, or flights and hotels if you were inclined to travel to more distant events before. I’m going to be a bit gutted if they’re not also cheaper in terms of entry fee, too. They will be smaller, meaning fewer judges and a smaller venue… this ought to be reflected in the cost, and TOs who over-charge are likely to find that their players play elsewhere.
The Good – Less Time Consuming
Again, because the events are closer you won’t end up coming back at 3am and having to take it easy the next day as often. It’s likely that you won’t need to put in as much time testing either; it’s not unrealistic to think that you might win a 24-32 man event within the first 6 or so if you’re quite experienced, so likely as not your season will only be about 3-4 weeks, compared to 10.
The Good – Focused Testing
Because there will be a lot of events, you can pick and choose more to attend, meaning that if you particularly want to play Modern (for instance) you could just play the Modern ones.
The Good – Grand Prix!
The last three points in particular make playing GPs much more appealing. In addition to these points, the changes to Planeswalker Points which rewarded you for playing 20 PTQs over the year are going to make playing GPs even more appealing.
This is a pretty good change, because it felt as if the PTQs and GPs were at odds with one another to an extent before, and now there is a much greater degree of harmony.
The Good – Venues
I touched on this from another angle in a previous point, but it is worth making a point of it on its own too. With PTQs averaging 250 people or so recently, venues were insanely cramped at times. I’d like to think we will end up playing in more civilised conditions in for preliminaries, and I’m also hoping what with the Regionals actually being a pretty big deal, that we will get pretty nice venues for them. Not as big as a GP, but maybe something like many of the better current PTQ venues, only with half as many people.
The Good – The Growth of the Game
The very first article I wrote for this site was questioning the wisdom of encouraging the growth of the game for players like me. I’m fairly sure that these changes make that article largely redundant, which is good — it’s definitely better for everyone if everyone wants the game to grow.
The thing about me is that I’d always have made do. Even if this was absolutely woeful, I’d have tried to find a way to make it work, and wrote an article saying that you should too. I’m glad it’s actually not.
Personally, I’d like to think that I will be qualified within 6 preliminaries each season, and will rattle through them early to allow me the greatest degree of flexibility (e.g. in case I have a bad season, or it’s just fundamentally more difficult than I’m expecting). As it stands, I play 7 PTQs a season and all three WMCQs, as well as at least the UK GP, meaning I’m away for at least 1 day on 32 out of 52 weekends.
It’s going to be nice having more weekends – it makes things like other gaming hobbies and part time work much more realistic, as well as allowing me more time to spend with Kirsty (although, she’s always been pretty chilled out about me playing cards…).
Back when PTQs were 128~ people, I would have liked to think I would top 8 about 1 in 6. I’m not saying that I’m going to top 8 one in six Regionals, but I’m optimistic about my chances of getting on the pro tour more regularly than I did before.
The fact that you’re preparing for a single event with fairly large gaps between events is really appealing too. This way, you can have a really polished version of the deck you’re playing, and there is less pressure to react to whatever happened the week before in a PTQ. This is something I will talk more about in the next few weeks but suffice to say I’m happy with this, and I’m also happy that GPs will be a bigger deal for me as well.
In short, I’m largely happy with the situation, and remember, you can find all MTG events in the UK using the UK Magic Calendar.
That’s it for this week! Next week I’ll talk about testing and travelling to events in the New World.
All the best,