As a grinder, am I wrong for thinking this of how PPTQs are being run? Or do you agree with my points?
“Strive for continual improvement, instead of perfection” – Kim Collins
There have been some meaningful changes in Magic: the Gathering in the last few months, both in terms of what’s getting played in Standard, and the structure of the competitive game. The most important of change from my point of view is the new Bronze Pro status, which I’m planning to write about in my next article (as it stands, I’m still thinking about what it means for me in real terms…). What I will say about it now is that it offers a potential alternative to the Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifier (PPTQ) system for those of us who are trying to get onto the Pro Tour. Before this change was announced, I was already planning on writing this article, but the fact that there is a reasonable alternative route offered in addition to the PPTQ grind really puts it all in a different light.
So what’s wrong with PPTQs? I’ve written about this before, but I really miss the challenge old PTQs offered – and the immediate qualifcation for the Pro Tour upon winning. PPTQs are still difficult to consistently win each season without committing to playing way more tournaments than I’d like. A points-based qualification system would be good, but there are various problems with the implementation of such a system, the biggest of which is collusion. If you don’t drive, they’re costly and time consuming to get to.
These are all issues which, except a handful of people at Wizards of the Coast, nobody can actually influence more than a little. There are also some issues which judges and tournament organisers (TOs) *can* improve, however, and this will be the subject of this article. Please bear in mind that I’m writing this from my perspective, although I think that perspective is largely representative of many people like myself.
Sometimes these events run on for way longer than they ought to. Some of this stuff is just down to experience for the judges and TOs running the event, and perhaps a mismanagement of tasks (e.g. one of the two is doing jobs the other ought to be doing, resulting in one being overworked and the other left somewhat redundant). There is something to be said for the same judges trying to judge in the same stores each season for this reason, as the two can get used to working with each other.
Seating 32 players for a player meeting, then re-seating them for the first round is a waste of time – just pair them for the first round. These meetings sometimes go on and on as well, and it seems like that’s not required. Lunch breaks are pretty ridiculous at 5-6 round events. I’m glad they’re infrequent, but when they do happen I sigh inwardly.
I’ve definitely played PPTQs where the judge has let the round go on for longer than stated because they were inattentive to the time. This is a problem because it affects the outcome of matches, even if it is an easy mistake to make. Needless to say, it also makes the event drag on forever. It’s important to have everything ready to start the next round upon completion of the previous round *before* the last slip is handed in, too.
The difference in these small things adds up. It’s not just the raw time taken, but also the player experience which is affected. A crisp, efficiently run event is much nicer to play in than one which drags on because of “work behind the scenes”.
Because many PPTQs are run inside small game stores, space is at a premium. There is a tendency to try to find space for the maximum possible number of players, which often results in a third set of chairs being crammed into space designed for four people to play in. This isn’t great, but I can see why it happens. Once an event no longer needs the maximised seating (once people drop, or after it turns out only 32 turned up and you seated for 40) it would be good to get the seating spread out a bit… particularly on the higher tables. Some people aren’t going to like reading that last bit, but to me it seems that you want to give the best conditions to the people playing the most meaningful games – missing something when the board is too cramped and that meaning you don’t make Top 8 is worse than missing out on one pack, for instance.
When there is limited space, being able to get to the pairings board can be a bit of a chore. It would be good to have two sets of pairings (this is pretty easy to sort out) and for the room to be set up to allow for an easy flow of players from pairing to seats. Often what happens is that once a player finds their seat on the pairings board, they need to double back through the line to get to the tables. This slows things down and is annoying for all parties. Naturally there will be venues where this is unavoidable, but it is a meaningful annoyance.
Lighting can be a problem at various venues. Again, this is something which some TOs will have little control over – if the store only has one window, and it’s facing a block of flats, there will be limited natural light, for instance. More light fittings would be ideal, but if not then going for the slightly more expensive light bulbs can make a massive difference. I used to have cheap energy saving ones in the house and… they were rubbish. I changed over to LED lights and they’re drastically better.
Heat can be a big problem when there are loads of people crammed into one place. Air conditioning is pretty expensive, so I can see why shops don’t often have it, although it would be ideal. Opening windows where appropriate would also be good. I’ve been at venues where they’ve brought out big fans; they make a world of difference and even if they didn’t I would have greatly appreciated the gesture.
The other consequence of heat is sweat. The first time I was in a casino I noticed that there was deodorant in the corner of the bathroom, and I recently saw this again in the bathroom of a game store, along with mouthwash. Forget all the “gamers stink” stuff – in the middle of June if you put 30+ people in a small place, they’ll smell even if they’ve never heard of a D20. I thought this was a really nice touch and a good way of generally keeping things nicer in the store.
One of the most jarring things about the PPTQ system is the way it brings very different people, with very different objectives, together in a competitive setting. I’m sure this is a major difficulty for judges, and will certainly be a problem for TOs as what it normally means is that their local players will frequently feel put out by players from elsewhere.
I don’t have a great solution to this (unsurprisingly) but I will say that I think a higher degree of consistency will help everyone involved. If a player is taking too long with their turn, tell them to play faster. If you think a player missed a trigger, rule that they missed it. If a player did something which warrants a game loss, give them a game loss. Protect the integrity of the tournament, and to prevent newer players from becoming alienated by what that will often mean for them, encourage them to make sure they are ready to play at that level before they sign up for the event. This is something which TOs, community judges and experienced players can all contribute to.
On the subject of consistency, as someone who plays a lot of events in a lot of places, I have found that there are inconsistencies in the way judges rule things. The most obvious example I can think of is to do with Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet and what happens if the players forget about it. In one case, I was told (not very clearly) that the player couldn’t miss it, something about the rules enforcement level, and my opponent got the tokens. The second time this happened at another event with another judge, when I called the judge they said he didn’t get the tokens because he missed it and something about the rules enforcement level. I called the judge in each case because I was vaguely aware that there was something going on with this card which was different, and after this I asked around a bit. It’s a replacement effect, so the normal stuff about missing triggers doesn’t apply. It would have been good in both cases if this was explained clearly, but more importantly that the ruling was the same in each case – the tokens were important to the outcome of each of these matches.
Saving the most controversial for last, it’s time to talk about That Guy at PPTQs. The angle shooters, the actual cheats, the loud players who push other players around and ultimately do the same with judges. They’re often experienced, and generally don’t have a problem with confrontation. It seems to me that there are a number of players in the UK who browbeat their way to getting the results they want, and because the PPTQ system places a massive amount of stress on the pool of judges in the country, it is often the case that an inexperienced judge will be on their own at an event which includes such individuals. Part of the issue is likely peer pressure, and the idea that other competitive players will consider it bad to penalise “one of their mates” for whatever they should rightfully be penalised for. This isn’t the case; I don’t want someone winning a game I wouldn’t have because they are prepared to shout and talk over both their opponent and the judge rather than play better. There is a good chance that this person isn’t “one of my mates” at all, because I turn my nose up at that sort of thing. I’m sure this is quite a common attitude among the best players in the country, too. I’d really encourage judges to be firm with these players, and if support is needed, then look for it in the more upstanding elements of the community. These players soil the game.
I expect most of this stuff is a matter of experience, both from the TOs and the judges, and that it will improve in time. The demand for judges will not see another massive spike like it has with the PPTQ system in the foreseeable future, more judges will continue to be certified, easing the pressure, and perhaps most importantly the judges which are inexperienced now will become experienced.
There are players who will help you out, too. People who will take the time to coach newer players at FNM so that they don’t have a bad experience at the PPTQ. Players who will go and get you your lunch between rounds. Players who will back you up if another player is losing their temper with you.
When I first started playing the game there was a great deal more symbiosis between the experienced players, the tournament organisers, and the judges. The whole thing was a much more collaborative effort, and that has – to my mind – somewhat drifted away in recent years. I realise of course that I used to be one of the players who could help new players prepare for bigger things while I was at FNM, but no longer go, but I realise too that I must have been replaced 100 times since by other players just as suitable to that task. Have a look around and see who will help you run a better event, because there is certainly demand for it.
So, am I right? or am I wrong? What parts did you agree with, and what parts did you not agree please? Do let me know in the comments.
All the best,