The new Magic: The Gathering PPTQ system has changed the grind, but is it for the better? What do you think?
In today’s Magic: the Gathering, there are now more ways than ever before to qualify for the Pro Tour, be it through the Pro Tour Qualifier system, Magic Online or a positive run at a Grand Prix and other Pro Tours. The newest of these is the Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifier (PPTQ) system, which replaced the old Pro Tour Qualifiers (PTQs).
Under the PTQ system, there would be a number of tournaments held across the country per quarter. The winner of each PTQ would receive prizes chosen by the Tournament Organiser (usually boosters, with a box for the top 8), in addition to an invite to the Pro Tour. In the UK there were between 5 and 8 PTQs held across the country each quarter and people would travel from all over to attend them. As a result of the limited number of opportunities to qualify and the growing popularity of Magic: The Gathering, attendances through 2013 were regularly over 200 players for each event.
In March 2014, PTQ Stansted had 409 players, breaking the record for PTQ attendance (for an event with no direct association with a Grand Prix or Pro Tour). The winner-takes-all nature of PTQs meant 408 people went home with some boosters and one less shot to qualify, though the top 8 walked away with significant prizes, on this occasion these happened to be Playstations thanks to tournament organisers Xtremetrades. With attendances ever increasing, tournament organisers were under greater pressure to find suitable venues for hundreds of people for eight or nine round events, not to mention the judge requirements. The system was slowly become unsustainable as a method of providing opportunities to qualify for the Pro Tour
The New Era
In July 2014, Wizards announced a new system would replace the current PTQ format. The new system has been in effect since December 2014, and it is fair to say that the overarching aims were achieved.
With the exception of Italy, who have the largest Regional Pro Tour Qualifiers (RPTQs), RPTQ attendances have been manageable while still qualifying a similar number of players from each region. Local games stores have also had more exposure: Prior to the implementation of PPTQs, I’d only attended my own local store but have since visited every store in the West Midlands that has hosted a PPTQ! Other players have mentioned to me that as a result of the PPTQs, they’ve been able to discover FNM locations they didn’t know previously existed, which is excellent news for both players and the stores themselves.
However, this benefit also leads to one of the downsides of the system as each store is able to choose their own entry price and prize structure for tournaments they host. Whilst this has its benefits when an LGS has to hire an alternate venue, it leads to a lack of consistency across a region. By way of example, I’ve attended £30 constructed PPTQ with worse prize pay-outs than a £25 sealed PPTQ.
On a personal level, the cost of a PPTQ isn’t a prohibitive factor to my attendance – I want to qualify for the RPTQ, and am happy to cover the cost. Despite what I’d have my friends believe, my opinion isn’t fact, so I spoke to UK players to hear their thoughts. From a sample of 50 people, 90% would attend regardless of cost. The remaining 10% said, on average, they’d like to pay no more than £15 for constructed and £35 for sealed.
One of the most egregious mistakes tournament organisers (TOs) can make, with regards to their PPTQ, is advertisement and pre-registration processes for their event. Personally, I like to be organised at finding events near me, and I like to know well in advance what events are taking place and how I can pre-register the Monday before (once I’ve lost in Sunday’s final!).
Over the past few seasons, several TOs have relied solely upon Facebook as a means of advertisement or even sign ups, which is pretty bad given some people don’t have Facebook or use it infrequently. Ensuring your event is on the MTGUK Calendar above is a start, but I would urge all TOs to use MTGevents.co.uk to help promote and pre-register for their event. Events which tell me to “send £20 to email@example.com via PayPal” immediately feel less professional than those with a proper sign up site. This would also improve people’s pre-registration rate as there would be a consistent place to find and register for all events. This would also alleviate TO worries regarding the numbers of pre-registrations, as this has been a major cause of event cancellation in recent seasons. MTGevents.co.uk is a solution that will benefit all involved.
I might go, if…
Part and parcel of the cost of tournament entry is the prize support. Players stated they’d be more willing to pay extra if they knew the prize support was good (with Axion Now being cited as an example of this). In several cases, players informed me that if they attended a tournament with a particularly bad entry to prize ratio, they would be unwilling to attend the season after.
I came across numerous “horror stories” with the worst being £30 entry for Standard and 2 boosters for each of the top 8 competitors. Solving this issue doesn’t seem simple, given the variable costs of venue hire and it seems unlikely Wizards would be able to impose set prices given they decline to do so for Grand Prix. Nevertheless, it remains something to ponder over. The important thing is to put yourselves in the players shoes – “If I pay £30 and lose in the top 8, what would I consider a reasonable prize?” For the most part, players won’t mind if there’s no participation prize, as long as the top 8 is adequately awarded for their achievement.
The feedback group were also asked about their preferred format, which aside from proximity, was the most likely reason they would not attend an event. 18% of the group said they would choose not to attend an event based on its format, though they were not unanimous on which formats they’d boycott. In fact there was an almost even split between those who would avoid Standard, Modern or Sealed. It would be impossible to please everyone for the format of PPTQs and I think the current structure of playing the format you would then play at said Pro Tour works very well, certainly better than when they could be absolutely any format.
Location, Location, Location
As mentioned above, proximity is the deciding factor as to whether people attend an event or not. 85% of people would be willing to travel a maximum of two hours for an event, 10% said 90 minutes while the remaining 5% said three hours at a maximum. This information suggests that the majority of players will remain within an 80 mile radius of their location.
Proximity presents an interesting dilemma – on the one hand it is nice not having to travel three hours for an all-day event where only the winner gets a prize, but on the other hand you see players from a distance away less often. The camaraderie provided at the old PTQs was one of the nicest things about them, something that I was reminded of at the Modern Mega GPT in Milton Keynes recently, which had an attendance of over 250 people, similar to an old PTQ. With that being said, I don’t believe that this social element is of greater importance than sustainable events. Furthermore, in theory, qualifying for the RPTQ would allow players to have their “large event social interaction” at the Regional.
This brings us nicely to the final point – the feel bad element of a winner takes all event hasn’t been removed from the system. Only the winner of a PPTQ gains qualification to a Regional, meaning that it is as possible as before for someone to “spike” a PPTQ to get to the Regional. Equally, it is possible for players to reach the top 8 of the majority of PPTQs they attend without winning one. In my sample of 50 players, 12% have had over 17 PPTQ top 8s with two or less wins. Participating in multiple top 8s without winning one in a season (affectionately known in the UK as “Matt Lighting” a season) is a horrible feeling – you and others know you are good enough to win one, but keep getting beaten in the knockout rounds.
Some have argued that if you cannot win in a top 8 over a season, you don’t deserve an invitation to the Regional. To me this argument is nonsensical – the Regional is meant to be a tournament for the top players in the country to battle it out where four (or eight) will make it to the Pro Tour. “Best” is a subjective term, but should surely take into account consistently good performances as opposed to a single win. Furthermore, in other Magic events, it is the top 8 that matters as much as the winner – Hall of Fame votes value Pro Tour Top 8s, and Pro Tour qualification is obtainable through a Grand Prix top 8 (or an equivalent record). When we look at tournament decklists, we look at the top 8, not just the winner.
Room for Improvement
A solution proposed by the Blue Envelope Podcast (apologies if they got it from someone else) was to have a points system, similar to Formula 1 (or the pro point system) whereby the top 8 are all awarded a number of points based on their finish. At the end of a season, all PPTQ winners receive invites to the Regional as before, in addition to either the top X points earners in a season, or all points earners with X or more points. This would reward the winner as well as consistently good finishers. Additionally, increasing the size of RPTQs by a small amount would not break any capacity requirements (as the number of additional players could be scaled accordingly) and it wouldn’t require Wizards to provide further Pro Tour invites either.
In summary, having played under both systems, while PPTQs provide some frustrations it is definitely a more successful system. The logistical constraints on Tournament Organisers of having 300+ person tournaments are removed. From a player’s perspective being able to play competitive Magic week in week out is a huge boon and has certainly contributed to the increased quality of UK Magic.
Wizards have shown in the past they listen and are willing to make changes to the system where relevant. An early concern was not knowing which Pro Tour a PPTQ or RPTQ qualified you for. Since then all PPTQs are either sealed or the format of the Pro Tour for which they qualify.
Furthermore, there was a long break at the end of 2015 where no PPTQs were held worldwide, in order for the PPTQ season to align itself with the Pro Tour schedule. One hopes that as they gather more data on the system, they’ll make adjustments to reduce the negatives discussed above. If you have any ideas on how the system could be improved, share them in the comments below.
Community Question: If you were in charge, what changes would you make to the existing PPTQ system and why?
Thank you for reading,