A Survival Guide to the New World (Part 3) – Wisdom Fae Under the Bridge by Graeme McIntyre
“Arguing with a man who has renounced reason is like giving medicine to the dead” – Boyd Crowder
Back when the changes to the PTQ system were first announced I started writing a 3 part series of articles concerning them. The first was outlined the system and was as much an effort to talk myself down from the ledge as anything else, going over the changes and what was good and bad about them, the second was concerned with the practical elements of preparing for and travelling to PPTQs. The third I article I started writing, but quickly abandoned because my thoughts on the matter were basically just a wish list, with no real substance to draw on.
The first Regional Pro Tour Qualifiers have now been and gone, and combined with my experiences and what I’ve been hearing from the judging community in the UK, there is now justification for writing the final article in the series.
There are two articles on Reddit which have a lot of very useful information regarding this topic, so I’m going to link them here.
The first is the actual attendance at the event, which we’ll be discussing, the second is a predictive exercise which is pretty well thought out and matches reasonably well with what actually happened.
Range = 30 to 130
This one is probably the biggest problem. Top 8ing a 130 man event which is comprised of people who are all at least competent at the game is 6 wins, and an ID, maybe or in many cases a few lucky 6-2s. Take into account the fact that this is in Tokyo, and the population density of Japan which is obviously where most of the players who are at this event will be from, it’s reasonable to think that those guys probably won pretty big PPTQs to even get there. On the other hand, the Russian event had 30 people, who likely won smaller qualifiers (population density, number of PPTQs ran in Russia, etc), and would have needed 4-1-1 to make top 4. I posted 5-0-2 to top 8 the PPTQ I won in the first season, then had to play my last round on 5-1 because of tiebreakers, lost that and didn’t top 8 at the regional.
Now, that might sound like I’m still just pissed off about something that happened a month ago, but the truth is that I’m fine with it, largely because I think there will be revisions to the system which will make it better, but also because I feel like I could replicate my performance in Regionals to come; I feel like I’m in a better position to make Pro Tour that I was before, and I’m in it for the long term, not just that one tournament where my tiebreakers hurt me.
The problem is that there is a big disparity between winning the one in Russia, and winning the one in Japan, but also between winning in Chicago (113) and Santa Clara (34).
Mean = 62 overall, 79.1 in Europe, 53.5 in North America, 50 in South America, 131 in Japan, 55 in the rest of Asia
Two tournaments total had the full top 8 qualifying. While I understand that there is a good reason to reduce the number of people qualifying for the Pro Tour, a drastic reduction like this has problems that come with it, too, especially outside of north America (there will be an insane proportion of Americans at the next Pro Tour compared to previous before). Unsurprisingly, given Europe had half as many qualifiers, the European events were roughly half as big again as their American counterparts, on average, meaning that European players are fighting significantly harder for half as many slots.
I can’t help but feel that when an American pro wins the next Pro Tour, as the American majority roar in patriotic triumph, there’s going to be some pretty jaded Europeans.
The bottom line on this is that the events aren’t especially even in terms of player distribution, and they’re not close to meeting the cap in many instances, meaning that fewer people qualify, and this, combined with a seemingly ever growing player base, might start to disillusion aspiring players. For the continuation of the competitive game there needs to be a dream to chase, but if the dream is moving too unrealistically fast, then people will stop chasing, stop playing, and their part in the hierarchy of aspiration isn’t filled. This in turn makes the players under them more distant from the next stage, meaning that they too become disillusioned, and the whole thing collapses.
It might well be the case that the game would do just fine without the competitive element – I’m in no position to discuss that as I have no comprehension of how a company as big as Wizards operates in respect to money, no real idea of what “making enough money” looks like – but to maintain the competitive element, incentives must be appropriate.
The first option is to work on distribution of events within a region – which cities? Which countries? This is something they’ll clearly do every single season, and will constantly change and work on, as it’s a fairly big unknown and difficult in the extreme to predict accurately, so there will be a process of trial, error and improvement. This is pretty obvious, but still needs saying.
The follow on from this is redistribution of events within regions (e.g. give Europe some of Americas.) and potentially increasing the number of events in total (e.g. just giving Europe 4 more events). This would likely spread players out more, so that there would be less range in the size of events, which is a major problem at the moment. Running more would put more people on the PT (e.g. allow more people to succeed in chasing the dream) without requiring the caps to be altered.
Running more is logistically problematic, though, in that it adds more moving parts to the operation. Additionally this requires more TOs to be willing to run them and from what I understand, they’re actually a bit of a lemon for TOs, which seems like a mistake on Wizard’s part from my perspective, but then again, what do I know? Beyond the TOs there needs to be more reasonably senior judges employed, which is part of the problem for the TOs, but also a difficulty all of its own.
The option of simply running more is probably a non-starter, and I’d be surprised if they take any from America, because that’s where a lot of the money is.
It might be that doing the opposite – that is running fewer Regionals – is a good option. This would likely bring attendance closer to the mean but reducing the range, making for more equal tournaments, but might also mean that more events actually made it to the cap. In addition, it would require fewer judges and TOs.
That said, it would also mean that more players would need to travel further to get to the regional, making each Regional similar in cost to a GP. This might well bring the dream out of catching distance on an early wrung in the ladder, meaning that the PPTQs get fewer people, meaning more cancellations and potentially the collapse of the system altogether.
This sort of sounds like a good option to me, but it would need to be paired with some changes to the PPTQ system to allow for the added strain which would be put on it.
They could also change the cap for top 8 qualifications to events over 64. This would make the difference in event size less meaningful – although it would still make a difference – and reward players in a 65 man event more lavishly than those in a 30 man event, which I can certainly get behind. In addition it would remove the “feel bad” factor for a lot of people who made top 8, but then lost their quarter final. I lost a final when I was 15, but have been fortunate enough not to have suffered this since; it’s pretty sickening. It would also put more people on the PT, playing an important part in maintaining the chase.
I like this option, I think it would be fine, but I’d be a bit surprised if it happened.
Qualifying more people for the next RPTQ through the one they’re currently playing is a solid idea, too. this would likely qualify some of the best players in a region for the next event which helps to maintain the quality of the RPTQ – making it more of a battle of the best – but also increasing the number of people qualifying full stop, which allows for better dream chasing and likely reduces the range on attendance, while also increasing the mean, making for fairer events.
Obviously I’m bias, as I’d be over the moon to see this one happen on a personal level (I dread the idea of a bad season where I spend forever trying to qualify, only to fail to do so. This is the sort of thing that might make me call it a day. I just don’t want to spend 10+ weekends trying.) However, it seems like it’s close to free to do this and it’s pretty good for everyone; often these events feature a meaningful gap in skill between the best couple of players, and the other likely top 8 candidates, and probably a lot of players are irritated to see those guys especially late in the season.
Another option I could get behind is qualifying more people through the PPTQs. These events are even more variable than the regional – 16 man qualifiers and 100 person qualifiers which qualify the same number of people is just ridiculous. Qualifying 1 in 16/20/32/x people would be a fine system, and it largely worked for nationals qualification years ago. Alternatively a points based system where you can cash up points from various top 8s at PPTQs for an invitation is a potential option, although it would require a lot of administrative effort, would likely lead to tonnes of collusion and would be hard to balance, and it wouldn’t account for event size, which I think does need addressing.
What it would sort is the situation I mentioned above where a player keeps trying, and nearly getting there, but doesn’t quite make it. This actually happened to Matt Light this season where he played something like 13 events, top 8ed 11, made 5 finals, but isn’t qualified for the Regional (he also came 9th at the previous Regional). To me it seems completely clear that he deserves to be qualified, and has performed a feat larger than anyone else that is qualified as far as I know. For dream chasing reasons (because this is actually really disheartening for me, let alone him – could be me next season…) I’d like to see a special invite happen for him.
One option I haven’t mentioned till now is running more PPTQs. Wizards is keen on this one, and I’ve heard a lot of TOs have been getting a bit of pressure to run them if already eligible, and a lot of pretty new stores have become Advanced Stores pretty quickly (e.g. fast tracked a little). While trying to get more stores to run events is helpful, especially this early in the development of the new system, there is a point of diminishing returns, and we’ve hit it to a degree in the UK; there’s *loads* of events every weekend, attendance is all over the place, events get cancelled, quality is sporadic, and (likely most importantly) the level 2 judges in this country are getting run into the ground.
This is a bloody complicated topic. What I’ve said is far from exhaustive, and there are people who are either TOs, or judges, or professional event organizers within the company, or simply finer minds than mine, who would likely point out flaws in some of the things I’m saying which I’ve not considered.
Here’s the thing, though. It’s going to change; maybe not for a year while they work elements of it out, but it will change over time. We’re actually at a pretty strange time in magic, as the game enters a period of change brought about by the growth it’s seen in recent times. I’m pretty surprised there hasn’t been much writing about it elsewhere, or even much chat about it on social media.
Community Questions: Does the current PPTQ system make you feel disenfranchised? And if so then how can this be resolved?
That’s it for this week. The 3rd set of PPTQs start this weekend – maybe I’ll see some of you fighting for a slot!
Thanks for reading,