Should UK Magic The Gathering Tournaments use the top 8 system? by Christopher Cooper
Picture the scene.
Your local store runs a Monthly Modern Event for £5 entry. You’ve got a few PPTQs coming up, maybe there’s another big event you’re trying to get some practice for. You decide to go along to get some testing in.
There are 20 players there, normal for an event of this sort, you think. 5 rounds of Magic, I should be able to get in some good testing here.
Round One, you come up against the new guy at the shop who’s playing with his tweaked Standard deck. He puts up a good fight, but can’t keep pace with your fully-tuned monstrosity. Round Two, you come up against a good match up and get a similar result. Round Three is bad on paper, but you’re getting a nut draw in Game One and drawing three sideboard cards in Game Two mean that you’re 3-0 without breaking a sweat or dropping a game.
You sit down opposite your mate for Round Four, delighted that you’re both doing well. “Do you want to Intentional Draw and get some food? The standings mean we can afford to double draw in.”
“Sure,” you say, and head off for a burger joint.
You come back in time for Round Five, look at the standings, and the Top 8 is locked in by Intentional Drawing (also known as IDs). The rest of the room play out the round, but their heart isn’t in it. They know they won’t get any prizes, but are going through the motions for the sake of it. The eight of you waiting for the results are reluctant to play amongst yourselves in case you give anything away for the knockout rounds coming up.
Eventually the Lantern of Insight mirror comes to an end with one of them winning on turn 2 of extra turns. Someone makes the suggestion of a split. There are murmurings of a Cube Draft and one or two of the drivers are looking at their watches. 7 of the other guys want to split the prizes and take home 4 or 5 boosters each.
In these sorts of scenarios – nobody wins.
If you play it out, there are people wanting to Cube having to wait for people to get knocked out before they can fire up. The drivers are having to wait for their passengers regardless, that or the rest of the car is waiting for the driver. Meanwhile, you’ve come to play Magic and have played 6 games total and have sat around waiting for most of the afternoon.
My question is this: Is the Top 8 system the right one for the majority of tournaments held within the UK?
Now with the MTR document in force, obligatorily so for GPTs and PPTQs which a lot of competitive events are these days, there is no choice in the matter. There is a cut to Top 8 as a part of the rules for running the tournament.
However, for any other store level tournament there would be huge benefit in doing away with these knockout rounds altogether. The primary reason is this:
This would create more Magic being played.
My suggestion is that instead of awarding prizes based on arbitrary positions within the Swiss portion of a tournament, reward players who win.
In our above example of a 20-man tournament with £5 entry and 5 rounds, I would award the equivalent of £2.50 per match win for each player with a positive record (i.e. over 8 match points). a 2-1-2 finish would net £5, 3-0-2 would get £7.5, as would 3-2-0. 4-1 will get £10 and 5-0 gets £12.50 back. In our 20-man tournament the most wins possible will award prizes down to a 10th placed 3-2 earning as much as the 5th placed 3-2 (£7.50), with the three 4-1s getting the £10 each and £12.50 going to the winner at 5-0. This isn’t quite perfect as there is a little left over in the pool. However, this would allow for the 1st place prize to be inflated a little or other prizes to be awarded as the Tournament Organiser sees fit.
It wouldn’t even need to be ‘all positive records’ getting a prize. You could do it for ‘Everyone with X-2 or better’ records, with a clear incentive to win your matches to top up your prize and not just ID them to guarantee placing. I think that the Magic community can place far too much important on placing and Top 8-ing an event, which can create a fear of losing, hence going for the safe option of locking up a spot.
For what it’s worth, X-2 records will normally give prizes out to the top 10 or so players, and will allow consistency in the prizes given. This is not a huge amount different to the current top 8 system, it just has fewer feel bad moments.
Under the system I’ve suggested players with a 3-1 record going into Round Five will still have a strong incentive to play their matches, allowing for greater fluidity at the top of the standings in later rounds. There is no punishment for losing compared to drawing, and so more Magic is played. Everybody wins.
It also rewards players completely on merit. Too often have I seen tournaments where someone only just missed out on Top 8 or prizes because of tie-breaks. This would mean that all players with the same number of match wins are rewarded equally.
At a recent prerelease event I finished 9th: no prizes, neither did the 10th place player also at 3-2 get any prizes. 8th through to 4th were also 3-2, with two boosters each going to 8,7,6 and 5 yet the 4th place player got 4 boosters? Why? Because top 4ing is harder than top 8ing, yet this leaves another 4 people unhappy, actually 5, as the player who finished in 3rd is unhappy that he gets the same as a 3-2 yet the other 4-1 gets more for coming second. For what its worth the event didn’t cut to top 8, just awarded prizes to the top 8 players.
I know that this sounds a little like sour grapes here, yes I did finish 9th. Yes, I was a little annoyed at it. However, when a negative customer experience is created surely a store should sit up and take notice of this and attempt to avoid making such an experience in the future?
The other big advantage that this style of tournament prize structure would give is a time benefit.
No longer will you be left with a 5-round tournament (5 hours to start with) plus a 10-15 minute faff, whilst people work out what the split would be, ‘Are we splitting?’, ‘Can I take a smoke/food break before we start?’, followed by untimed rounds that lead to people sitting around for a long time, waiting. My 5-round event starting at 1 p.m. will finish at 6 or thereabouts, with everyone in the tournament still around to applaud the winners as they collect their prizes.
This is such a benefit for the participants as it allows them to plan their day properly, plan their travel accordingly, and it means that there will be fewer angry wives at home annoyed that their husbands did well and is three hours later home than normal. (Just me? Ok, then.)
Ultimately, I want to play more Magic. I don’t want to play in a system that rewards me for not playing Magic. This is why Wizards did away with the ELO rating system and is why I believe that the Top 8 should be done away with at a store-level event. If I’m at a 20-man tournament, I want to play 5 rounds of Magic, not 3 rounds then maybe another up to 3 rounds, but probably not.
Let’s just play Magic and win more.
Community Question: Is the Top 8 system the right one for the majority of tournaments held within the UK? And how do you think the issue could be addressed?
Thanks for reading,