The Mythic Championship Qualifier Experience by Graeme McIntyre

How changes from PPTQs to MCQs might affect the Magic: the Gathering community.

Mythic Championship II (London) - Loveman vs. Sperling
Mythic Championship II (London) - Loveman vs. Sperling final

The Mythic Championship Qualifier Experience

There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” – Nelson Mandela

As many of you have no doubt heard, Pre Pro Tour Qualifiers (PPTQs) are being replaced.

May 2019 will be the first season to run Mythic Championship Qualifiers (MCQs). Previously (in England), around 70 small (20-40 person) satellite tournaments ran over three months as qualifiers for the Regional Pro Tour Qualifier (RPTQ). These will become 5 big events (capped at 256). The entry fee is a good bit higher than the old PPTQs – they’re running in 5 star hotel’s function rooms, which isn’t cheap from an organisers point of view – but the prizes are better, and each event supplies a premium foil to all participants which further mitigates the cost.

When PPTQs were announced I was extremely sceptical.

Then I calmed down a bit and I thought they’d likely be fine. Ultimately, I’d play about the same amount of Magic and then the RPTQ would be easier to qualify for the Pro Tour from than a PTQ. When it came down to it, I told myself, this would be business as usual…

…But I’ve not played for about a year, and in 2017-2018 I played around 10 events. In 2016 I represented England at the World Magic Cup and I played 56 Pre Pro Tour Qualifiers, starting in 2015. Before the introduction of PPTQs we had Pro Tour Qualifiers (PTQs) of which I played 142 from June 1999 until that system was replaced.

It’s likely that I have played more than most UK players, having averaged out 8.8 per year.

I played 28 the year I moved to Nottingham from Scotland, and had I moved earlier I’d certainly have pushed that average of 8.8 a year way up. There have been very few times in my life when I have been absolutely certain that I wanted to commit to something as fully as I did Magic: the Gathering, and things which had impacted me so greatly are fewer still.

So why have I not been playing?

It became clear to me that while I enjoy the game, it was the experience of tournaments which I loved. But the PPTQ system had fundamentally and indelibly altered that experience. Wizards have made a direct comparison between the new MCQ system and the PTQ system of old, and the resemblance is clear. From my perspective – e.g. for someone who has extensive experience in both the previous systems – this change is a good one with which I am both comfortable and pleased.

There are plenty of players who either started after PTQs went, or who participated as new players and had limited exposure to PTQs.

For those players the comparison between the new WMC and the old PTQ isn’t especially helpful because all it really tells them is that the bigger tournament with which the PPTQs are being replaced is like… well… a bigger tournament. How they operate in terms of structure is easily understood, but how they are experientially is another question, one which may leave players with reservations and concerns, not just with MCQs but with how they stand in relation to the game.

Stronger Competition

The PPTQ system – with its plentiful tournaments – encouraged players to choose the most convenient events for them, generally the closest ones.

What this meant was that geographical areas developed their own mini circuit of players, and corresponding ringers. The new system is unattractive in terms of convenience, both in terms of travel (time and expense) and entry fees. The local and semi-local ringers will still fancy their chances of doing well at the big event, and will be less likely to be put off. On the whole this will mean a more geographically diverse event, encouraging a higher average skill level. The vast majority of rounds will mean an opponent with a tier 1 deck who has a fairly strong understanding of the specifics of that deck, of your deck, and of the rules of the game in general. A considerably larger number of people in the event will have been looking forward to and preparing for the event for a couple of months, and will have their eye on first place and the Pro Tour invite that comes with it.

In short, most players will bring their A-Game.

Often inexperienced players take this to mean that these sorts of players will be absolutely cutthroat and will do everything up to and including cheating in order to win. For the most part this is a misconception – people will absolutely be trying to win, and they will call you on both mistakes and rules infractions, but for the most part cheating isn’t something you can expect and neither is a constant stream of judge calls. There is more to be said on this, but that’s for a future article. For now, what this means is a culture in which players bring their best, respect that others will bring their best, and recognise within each other a desire to win the whole thing. To me that shared vision is the very spirit of competition, fractured by the PPTQ system and rekindled in MCQs.

Wider Community

The localised nature of the PPTQ system resulted in a player base which didn’t do much in the way of traveling to events outside of GPs.

The concept of Magic for many players became inherently linked to their local community, with less scope to imagine beyond that. The idea of a bigger event might seem faceless, severe and without character – in short, intimidating.

That shared sense of large tournament competition does a lot to provide a middle ground for the formation of a nomadic community.

Small communities will still exist, but from them groups of players can form who do want to travel to big events. Some will be teams who test together, wear the same shirts and cheer each other on from the sidelines. Others are just friends and travel companions, but the there are still those associations. If I see Rob Catton walk into the room, I know there is a car from Leeds, so maybe Callum Bousfield or Chris Vincent will be there too, maybe Andy Devine. Same if I see the Yellow of Axion Now, or the Purple of Harlequins. Then there are players you only see sometimes, like Neil Rigby and Bradley Barclay but they’re both great friends of mine and now they live in London I rarely see them. Every now and then a player who faded out of the game will come back and play an event, then disappear again, or perhaps they’re back for a few years. Joe Jackson was talking about playing again at the turn of the year, which makes wonder about his contemporaries in Coventry Magic (arguably the strongest magic team the UK ever had, although I’m sure some of the oldest of the old guard in London would ruffle their feathers at that statement!).

In a way I’m sure that reads like an old timer reminiscing about a ship that’s long since sailed.

I was initially going to make a comparison with high school and university, but I dropped it because people graduate from both of those. With Magic, no one ever really graduates, so the ship never really sails – the community exists in the present even if it has an extensive history. There is opportunity to get involved in and become part of that.

Higher Significance

When I first started playing PTQs I was fairly nervous, but as I became more accustomed to them the build up to the event was pretty hype.

Because I was based in Scotland and quite young (I was 14 when I started playing tournaments, 16 when I made my first PTQ finals, 17 when I qualified for my first Pro Tour), access to events was difficult. Despite Wizards running 8 events a season, I’d get to 3 if I was lucky. This is likely representative of how the run up for the MCQs will be for many.

You’ll have a lot of time to prepare, and that investment – in the short term anyway – is squandered if you play the wrong deck or choke when you need to come up clutch.

Long term the investment isn’t squandered – hopefully you will learn from it. However the nature of the system is such that if you want to succeed you’ll need to be able to get it done in one of these short term situations. You can’t just go 0-2, shrug it off and go again next week. Success or failure is going to be determined in a small number of tournaments.

That’s the practical stuff, but it’s also going to feel more significant.

In the PPTQ system, individual events were ultimately not that big a deal. You could just attend the next one if it went badly. Most other people didn’t attach a massive amount of importance to them either, and the games themselves were not so difficult. It’s hard to take much away from these sorts of events. Preparing for more larger, less frequent events makes the commitment of resources (time, money and energy) feel way more significant, and therefore worthwhile.

Greater Opportunity

There is no doubt that these events will be more difficult and demanding than PPTQs were.

Stronger competition means you’re probably going to need to improve your game to be successful. Wider community means you’re going to need to deal with new people and make new friends if you want to be part of it. Higher significance means you’re going to need to be calm in the eye of the storm if you want to reap the rewards of your labour.

But if you’re competitive and want to go to the Pro Tour, doesn’t this stuff cut out the middle man?

To compete and accomplish things at the highest level you need to be prepared to do difficult things. Before you weren’t even “qualified” to do difficult things! Now the gates have been blown open and you have access to an environment in which you can improve unfettered by a system which restricted access to the sort of challenges you needed to make those improvements. These events should feel like exciting opportunities to do something great, because they are precisely that.

As a great man once said, “welcome to the game”!

Conclusion

As I said earlier in this article, I’ve been out of the game for a while. These changes are a big part of why I’m coming back.

Mine is a partisan view, but I do think this change in the system is a positive one.

I’m excited to be back, and I’ve got more to say on the subject of MCQs so watch out for more advice on preparing and getting the most out of your tournament experience.

Some might argue the new system is threatening to local communities, as support for local events is withdrawn. I can’t speak for every store and how it will impact them, but I suspect that if there is call for smaller events to be ran locally, then there will be stores which will run those events.

Engaging in the new system isn’t betraying your local store.

That’s it for this week, I’ll be back again soon.

The Mythic Championship Qualifier Experience
The Mythic Championship Qualifier Experience
Graeme McIntyre discusses what Wizards of the Coast's GP qualifier changes from PPTQs to MCQs mean for the local - and larger - Magic: the Gathering community.
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Graeme McIntyre
I've been playing magic since the end of Rath Block, and I've been a tournament regular since Invasion Block. I started studying for a PhD in Sociology at University of Leicester in 2017. I was born In Scotland, but moved to Nottingham three years ago, seeking new oppertunities both academic and magical. I play regularly with David Inglis, Alastair Rees and Neil Rigby. I've been on 5 Pro Tours the 2016 English World Cup Team, and Scottish 2003 European Championship Team, but what I really bring to the table is experience. I've played 136 Pro Tour Qualifiers, 18 Grand Prixs, 11 National Championships, 13 World Magic Cup Qualifers, 51 Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifiers and more little tournaments than I can remember. More than anything else, my articles are intended to convey the lessons of this lived experience. Likes - robust decks, be they control, midrange, beatdown or combo. Cryptic Commands, Kird Apes and Abzan Charms. Dislikes - decks that draw hot and cold. Urza's Tower, Life From the Loam and Taigam's Scheming.