Recent Changes To Magic: The Gathering High Level Play (Nationals, Pro Tour, RPTQs), And What They Could Mean To You – Wisdom Fae Under the Bridge
“Time is the only critic without ambition.” – John Steinbeck
In February I wrote an article about the return of Nationals, and recently some changes were announced. I thought I’d write an article discussing these changes and how they will impact players preparing for the events involved. The main article can be found here.
“The fall set is named Ixalan, and will be releasing on September 29, 2017. It will be legal for the 2017 World Championship’s Standard and Limited play. Pro Tour Ixalan is November 3–5, 2017. This also means that Grand Prix Providence and Shizuoka Preview will both be Team Sealed GPs as part of the release weekend.”
The big change here is, as the Wizards article states, that the Pro Tour will be 5 weeks after the release of Ixalan now, not 2. This is actually a pretty big deal for the PPTQ season, as building decks early and taking a bit of a punt on the format is much more worthwhile now, whereas before there was only 2 weeks, one of which happened at the same time as the Pro Tour, and “brewing” was an awful lot of work given it was for so few events, and the process would be made redundant afterwards. There will still be a bunch of Star City events, and some Nationals happening around this time, but the decks that come out of these will be much weaker than the ones which come out of the Pro Tour.
This is great news for people who like to build decks, although many of them will fare poorly due to incorrectly imagining how these tournaments will play out. It won’t be the case that you can play something decidedly tier two, or “fun”, and expect a drastically higher win percentage. The Spikes aren’t getting put into your turf. There will still be loads of events on Magic Online and from there – regardless of the actual quality of the decks – a distinct meta game will begin to evolve, and it will be important that your deck does well against whatever that meta game includes; likely an aggro deck or two, a control deck, midrange, etc… just like most Standard formats over the years, but with looser lists. That meta game will be informed by the Star City Games tournaments, and by the things that Pros write about in their articles. In short, it’s not like the internet is going to be down for a month and it will be like the early 1990s again, but if you think you have a better option than the decks that are around, it’s more likely to be true now. All in all, I’m looking forward to it.
“2017’s Nationals will take place September 9–10, September 16–17, and October 14–15; they will be a split of Standard and Booster Draft, and Pro Points will be awarded at them.”
For me this was the most important part of the whole article. Wizards of the Coast has not made the details clear as to how much draft will be played, nor how much constructed, nor how many rounds. This will all be based on how many rounds the event is; this is speculation, but I expect that larger countries will have a two day event with two drafts and then somewhere between 4 and 8 rounds of constructed, based on the structure back in the day. For England, I’d expect two days, with 6 rounds of draft and 6 rounds of Standard.
Not all of the events will be held at the same time; each nation will have one tournament, but that tournament might be on any of the three weekends mentioned above. This would generally be fairly unimportant, but the latest event (October 14-15th) will take place *after* Ixalan, but before Pro Tour Ixalan. This means that it will be a brand new draft and constructed format, which will be completely different in terms of preparation compared to the other, earlier, dates.
For the early Nationals (9-10th September and 16-17th September) there will be plenty of time to build up a very good working knowledge of the format in the lead up to the event. The prerelease last weekend was the first opportunity for limited practice to begin, and each opportunity counts towards your preparation for Nationals, if your country has theirs on one of these two dates. There will be plenty of time to practice the constructed format, too, with a season worth of PPTQs, a Pro tour, various Star City events, and a wealth of data from Magic Online.
If your Nationals is on the 14th-15th October, it’s a different matter. If this is the case, you’ll want to try and do something like we did in Nottingham in preparation for GP Manchester. Namely, find around 10 people who can commit a considerable amount of time to the draft format two weeks before the event, and try to do as many drafts as possible. I think we aimed for four a day over four days. Combine this, in some form or another, with testing constructed extensively, but set the focus to be week one draft heavy, and week two constructed heavy to allow for the Star City events, and possibly some MTGO results. Obviously get in as much draft as you can in the second week too, once it’s online. Read what you can, as you won’t be able to get as much first-hand experience as you’d like.
Personally I hope that I get to play one of the two early ones, because I will definitely put in the time to limited over a long run such as this, and I know from past experience that I will be in decent shape come the time of the event (I think my results at previous UK Nationals were 6-1, 6-1, 0-2 drop, 5-2, 5-2, 0-1 drop, or similar, with the bad ones being the result of dismal constructed performances). Realistically, I think this will be what will suit most people, as the majority of us have social obligations and responsibilities (you know, work to do, children to look after, exams to pass, lawns to mow…) but this in a way is what makes getting the late event a potentially massive opportunity. If you *can* set it up so that you do nothing but play Magic: the Gathering in the 2 weeks leading up to this event, you will be ridiculously well prepared compared to your opponents at the event. There is so much hyperbole used in descriptive Magic writing that I feel I should make this crystal clear; there is a genuinely tremendous edge to be gained here. There is an edge to be had in respect to the limited section for the two early events as well, though; one is a sprint, the other a marathon.
Either way, if you want to win this tournament, get your running shoes on; this is one where hard work will pay off. I’m pretty hyped about this.
“Regional Pro Tour Qualifiers will have entry fees, will increase from 32 events to 37, and will award invitations via a scaling system based on attendance, all starting with the round that feeds Pro Tour Ixalan in November.”
This is the point which I’ve seen the most people getting their back up over, and naturally so because it is the most negative. That said, I’d be surprised to see TO’s charging outrageous sums for entry into RPTQs. Even if you’re qualified for all four each year, it would be surprising to see this cost more than £100, and the reality of playing Magic is a massive green haemorrhage; let’s face it, you’re pot committed.
The positive side to it is the potential for RPTQs to offer up an additional four slots based on attendance. The UK probably will only qualify 4 people unfortunately, but this allows for both growth in the game in terms of opportunity, and for people who are unfortunate enough to turn up to an event which has an unusually high attendance to get “paid off”. It also stops the farcical situation where someone tops the Swiss of a 100 man event full of the region’s best players, then *doesn’t* get on the Pro Tour while his contemporary elsewhere scrapes in on x-2 in a 37 man event, and *does* go to the Pro Tour.
I’m fairly optimistic about this in the long term, although I’m obviously sad to be a little out of pocket in the short term.
“We are reverting the Pro Tour Top 8 bracket back to traditional single-elimination and are adjusting the Pro Tour prize money and Pro Point payout to Top 8 players starting with Pro Tour Amonkhet.”
I *think* I’m happy about this change, as it leads to less heartbreak moments. I’m a pretty big fan of intentional draws (which the change they’re reverting from was intended to discourage) because they remove rounds from events, and every round you have to play is a round which could stop you from accomplishing your goals. Tiebreakers meaning you have to play more rounds is a bit of a horror show in the Swiss portion of events. Then again the other side of this is that it’s pretty bad to do very well in the Swiss then be randomly knocked out in the quarters because you drew poorly. On balance, though, I think I prefer the system as it is because the “feel bad” from being refused an ID into the Top 8 of a Pro Tour is way worse than the “feel bad” of getting mana screwed twice, having accomplished something incredible already.
If I’m entirely honest, though, I’m less invested in this point than I am in the others, and that’s largely because I don’t watch Magic coverage (I’d rather play than watch someone else play). So it’s not a big concern for me, but I could understand someone who wanted more out of the coverage being disgruntled by this change being reverted.
These are some big changes and it’s worth thinking now about how you’re going to make the best of them, but regardless of how you prepare, and regardless of when your Nationals are, I think Magic: the Gathering just got better. That’s it for this week, I’ve got something on theory lined up for next week.
All the best,