Let’s Talk About Magic: The Gathering Tournaments and Conceding Before the Top 8
Amidst the buzz surrounding Shadows over Innistrad spoilers and the three Grand Prix tournaments that were held last weekend, an article posted on Friday caught the attention of the Magic: The Gathering community.
The article, published on ChannelFireball, recounted Eric Froehlich’s experiences at Grand Prix Houston, where Froehlich placed 11th.
Near the end of the article, Froehlich points out that his Round 14 opponent, Mark Jacobson, was undefeated with two rounds to go before the Top 8, and as such should have conceded the match so Froehlich could also clinch his spot in the Top 8. Jacobson opted to play and beat Froehlich 2-0. Froehlich went on to lose the next match as well, barely missing a spot in the Top 8.
In his article, Froehlich follows up with an argument in favor of conceding to a pro player in such a situation, with reasons ranging from vague references to gaining “equity” with pro players, to the perks that a long-standing pro player has earned after a certain amount of playing.
Needless to say, the article caused quite a stir amongst the Magic community. The article received almost 70 comments on ChannelFireball. A thread on Reddit titled Should it be acceptable for pro players to concede a match to let another pro make a Top-8? which linked to Froehlich’s article, has received almost 450 comments. Obviously, this is a topic the Magic community feels strongly about and wants to discuss further.
So let’s talk about it.
What Did the Article Say?
Before we go any further, I think it’s important that we examine what was actually said in Froehlich’s article. I will not be putting words in Froehlich’s mouth. I will simply be piecing together the arguments put forth and asking questions when things become hazy.
I also want to clarify that this is not an attack on Eric Froehlich. Many have misunderstood the tone of his article, partly due to poor wording and partly due to certain parts of his original article being cut in editing. Froehlich’s goal was to explain the way that pro players view the topic of concessions to the Top 8.
In round 14, I was paired against Mark Jacobson, the lone 13-0 in the tournament and a certain lock to make Top 8 even if he lost the last 2 rounds. It’s pretty common practice in this spot to consider scooping. You are giving up some amount of equity in doing so. You can slip to the 2nd or 3rd seed, although dropping below me in the standings doesn’t change much since I would never choose to play against someone who just did me a big favor if I were now the higher seed when playing them. Seeding does matter, but the potential equity lost is very small. You will still make Top 8, which is where most of your equity is located, and if the whole theory of “knocking someone good out of Top 8” was to actually matter and you beat them in the Swiss, why would you have not beat them in the Top 8 itself?
While it’s not a given, Jacobson was most likely a lock for the Top 8. He could have been going for an undefeated record in the Swiss, which is a pretty significant accomplishment. As for whether it is common practice to scoop to your last two opponents in this situation so they can be “grandfathered” into the Top 8, that has yet to be established. Maybe it is a common practice among pro players, in which case Froehlich had good reason to expect it.
The most confusing part of this excerpt is the use of the word “equity”. In its first use, it refers to Jacobson’s standings at the end of the Swiss and what seed he would be in the Top 8 if he conceded to his last two opponents. Froehlich even points out that he would never choose to play (go first in the first game of the match, which is the decision of the higher seed in the Top 8) against someone who had conceded to him, so the loss of Top 8 “equity” would be significantly reduced.
Confusingly enough though, that’s not exactly how the sentence is worded. “I would never choose to play against someone who just did me a big favor if I were now the higher seed when playing them.” Is conceding a favor? What does one receive for such a favor? That remains unclear, so we’ll continue.
The final argument made in this excerpt can be summarised as: Most of the equity of a Grand Prix lies in reaching Top 8 prize support. If you face a good player in the Swiss when your Top 8 spot has been clinched, you should concede to them because you can still beat them in the Top 8.
Coincidentally, a Top 16 finish at Grand Prix Houston earned $1,000, while a Top 8 finish earned at least $1,500 (Owen Turtenwald earned $10,000 at 1st place). That’s quite a margin. To ask that one should concede in the Swiss and wait until the Top 8 match to defeat the pro player is to say, “I don’t care if you beat me, I just want my $500.”
The phrasing here is also a bit confusing. “Knocking someone good out of Top 8.” Based on what we’ve seen so far, conceding is something you should do as a favor to a good player. What defines a good player, and what do you get in return?
The equity lost from not conceding is potentially very large, although it could end up being zero. If you are an individual who has no Pro Tour aspirations, isn’t worried about future relations, etc., you could lose zero equity from the dream crush situation. But by not helping someone else, you can’t possibly have any expectations of that person to do so for you in the future.
Most of the equity of a Grand Prix lies in reaching Top 8, but the point is made here that there is the potential to lose a very large amount of equity if you do not concede in Jacobson’s situation. What does equity mean in this situation? “But by not helping someone else, you can’t possibly have any expectations of that person to do so for you in the future.”
Is conceding, then, a favor that is passed among pro players? By not conceding, did Jacobson miss out on his chance to join the ranks of Magic players willing to concede to each other in order to guarantee a maximum chance of reaching the Top 8?
What about all the other players who fought their way through the Swiss, only to be knocked out of the Top 8 because they didn’t have the right connections? If Jacobson had conceded, which player would have been knocked out of contention, and should they by rights be upset about this?
Reading this will probably upset some people. I know that some people find the idea of conceding in tournaments distasteful, but it is absolutely part of the game.
It does seem pretty distasteful to most of the Magic community. The idea that the Top 8 is in part determined before the tournament even begins is, to many, discouraging.
What follows is a series of hypothetical questions the reader might ask about the nature of expecting a concession, and Froehlich’s answers to these questions. Froehlich starts by clarifying that he has no expectation of someone conceding to him, but it builds up good will towards that person. If an opponent concedes to a pro player, they “will go far out of their way to help [that person] in the future.” If the opponent does not concede and wins the match, it is called “dream crushing” and pro players who hear about it will “go out of their way to dream crush” that person.
The next hypothetical question is the most pointed:
Q: Is it fair if people concede to you because you have more relationships with others versus someone else they may not have chosen to concede to in the same spot?
A: Many people have the perception that “Pros get all of these perks and it isn’t fair.” I’ve been playing Magic for over 20 years. My first GP Top 8 was in April of 1997, nearly 19 years ago. To imply that it’s unfair that certain people accrue advantages for being known isn’t fair. They’ve put in the time and effort to make a name in the game. They’ve likely done some pretty great things to be in the Hall of Fame.
I don’t think anybody in these situations have “unearned privileges” that other players don’t have. Do they have privileges? Yeah, probably, but they are very much earned. I think it’s great that a person who has put so much into Magic, that has given back in so many ways, that people love to watch and compete, like LSV, is able to get a few extra advantages from acts of kindness in tournaments. It’s not just something that was handed down to him.
This is the part that is most difficult for the majority of the Magic community to understand. It’s completely understandable that someone who has developed a reputation as a pro player would gain certain perks in the Magic community. What is most confusing is the concept that after a certain length of time at the top, a pro player can come to expect certain advantages to be gifted to them from their fellow players.
According to the points made above, this is a part of the game, it’s perfectly fair, and an expected part of being a pro player in the Hall of Fame.
Responses to the Article
In the name of fairness, I will start by looking at the comments the article received, and give the author’s responses when applicable.
A heated exchange occurs between one commenter and Froehlich, most of which involves personal insults, but a valid point is made that is worth sharing. The commenter points out that the article implies that because Jacobson didn’t concede, he is now “blackballed” by the pro playing community. Froehlich replies that the only reason pro players would choose not to concede to Jacobson is because they know he would not do the same for them.
In his article, Froehlich does point out that this very well could be the kind of situation Jacobson would be okay with, where the Top 8 is determined through “the purest form of a Magic tournament where all results are earned on the battlefield.” He follows up by stating, “Realistically speaking, this can never actually happen. I don’t care enough about the competition to eliminate a good friend in a spot where I don’t need to and asking me to do so is just silly.”
There are quite a few comments that accuse Froehlich of being angry at Jacobson and complaining that he did not concede. Froehlich replied to many of them, clarifying he was neither, but was instead shedding light on the nature of concessions between pro players, and the fact that a player will not concede to an opponent with a reputation for not conceding.
Such a distinction might imply two classes of Magic players at the top tiers of competition: those who prefer to make it to the Top 8 based solely on their performance in the Swiss, and those who help each other reach the Top 8 through conceding matches at the end of the Swiss. For the former, the chances of making Top 8 are intrinsically tied to one’s performance at the tournament in question. For the latter, any performance that runs the risk of falling short can be rounded out with a concession from a friend. The odds, then, of consistent Top 8 showings increases with the amount of friends one can make in the professional Magic circuit.
Of particular interest in the comments was the following exchange. A reader asked, “What did you intend the majority of players (especially those looking to get into the tournament scene) to learn from this article?” Froehlich replied, “It turns out it’s absolutely not something many people care about or would try to understand. I certainly regret including it … because it didn’t turn out to be interesting or relevant for the majority of readers.”
Another exchange worth mention shed some light on why the article ended up having a more negative tone than Froehlich intended. After a reader pointed out the negative, contradictory tone of the article, Froehlich replied, “I actually didn’t realize that my entire point explaining why I was even discussing any of this was edited out of the article… The point [was] my friends being attacked on social media for their ‘perceived entitlement’.”
The Community’s Response
Shortly after Froehlich’s article was published, a thread was created on Reddit: Should it be acceptable for professional players to concede a match to let another pro make a Top-8?
Many of the comments amounted to personal attacks against Froehlich, which will not be repeated here. The thread’s goal, however, was to start a dialogue about pro players conceding to each other, and many users weighed in on the topic.
The original post linked to Froehlich’s article and asked:
My question is this acceptable behavior for professional Magic players? Isn’t a GP supposed to bring us the best players playing their best games? Or are we supposed to allow collusion so that the best 8 aren’t in the finals but 8 of the best players with the best connections? … Whatever happened to bringing your best deck, playing the best you can, and letting the chips fall where they fall. By expecting someone to concede so you can make the Top 8, some other player just got pushed out of the Top 8 not because of performance but because of connections. It doesn’t seem like any other sports or games allow this type of behavior. Why is it allowed in our game?
The top-voted comment states: “Last I checked, there are only 8 people in the top 8. If you scoop someone into the top 8, you screw some other person out of being in the top 8. This article could just as easily be ‘I would have made the top 8, but some jerk scooped to his opponent’.”
Another user says: “Conceding should absolutely be okay. The attitude that you’re a jerk or rude for not conceding has to go though. He’s earned a concession? No, false. There’s never a reason to expect a concession, and the attitude that ‘I’m more pro so you should scoop to me because I can get you favors.’ is just so bad for the game. And honestly, if that’s how he bases concessions (and it is, he said as much in the article) how is that not bribery?”
A reply to the above post points out: “Offering direct favors would be collusion / bribery. What Efro is doing is no better than that. He’s a big deal on the biggest team in the world. And he’s making this implication that ‘being in my good graces.’ is worth something so a scoop should make sense.”
One comment accurately summarises the most prevalent viewpoint: “It’s acceptable to concede. It’s acceptable to ask for a concession, even. It’s not acceptable to act as though actually playing the game is something wrong.”
One user made some strong arguments against the concept of concessions that accurately pinpoint the heart of the problem:
I do not think that it should be acceptable for a player(s) to decide who gets top-8 by any means other than playing Magic. I don’t think it would be feasible to enforce any rule that prohibits this behavior, but it wouldn’t happen often if the vast majority of players found it distasteful. You can pretend that you’re “being nice” to your opponent by conceding, but you’re also screwing over the person who would have gotten in had you played your match and won. The person you’re screwing over earned top-8. The person you conceded to didn’t but was gifted top-8 instead. It’s kind of like stopping in the middle of a two lane road to let someone turn across your lane. You feel like you’re being nice, but you’re holding up the drivers behind you. The fact that the general attitude towards conceding to gift a top-8 is it builds “good will” implies that it’s straight up bribery no different than offering money. It’s “if you give me top-8 this time, I’ll give you top-8 some other time and maybe one of my friends will because I have a lot of friends”. That’s deciding the outcome of the current match and possibly a future match by a means other than playing Magic.
Ethics and Good Sportsmanship
The question remains: Is it acceptable for professional Magic players to help each other reach the Top 8 of a tournament through means other than playing Magic?
There’s no question that it would be close to impossible to make a rule against it and actually be able to enforce it. If you make everyone “play out” a match, they’ll just make sure the end result is the same – the player with the better record will lose to help the other.
It makes perfect sense that friends will want to help each other out. There’s nothing we can do about that. Players from the same LGS will often take an Intentional Draw if it doesn’t hurt their chances of making the Top 8 – it’s preferable to one knocking the other out of contention.
But to expect it of a perfect stranger? That’s ludicrous.
To expect it of a perfect stranger because you’re well known? That’s bad sportsmanship.
To expect it of a perfect stranger because you have good connections that could help them in the future? That’s unethical.
That’s what it comes down to. This goes beyond a few friends helping each other out. For every well-connected pro player who is grandfathered into a Top 8, there is an up-and-coming would-be pro who just got knocked out of contention. They did everything right, but they didn’t have the right connections. The gap between pro and amateur widens just a little bit further.
This sort of “I got mine, don’t worry about his” mentality is what we fight against on a daily basis in the Magic community. We talk at length about good sportsmanship, how to stop bullying, why counterfeits are bad, and an increased number of thefts of local stores. Yet this sort of mentality flies in the face of what we all want to believe about our favorite trading card game.
So, let’s talk about it.
Community Question: Is it bad sportsmanship to expect a Magic: The Gathering player to concede to you if they are already locked for the Top 8 of a Grand Prix?
Thanks for reading,