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Making Worlds a Better Tournament

There’s nothing that I enjoy more than Magic. I love to play the game. I love all the people that I’ve met playing it. But what I really love is the tournaments we get to play and watch.

Wizards takes steps to make these tournament experiences better each year, from players to spectators, but there are a number of changes that need to be made to make these events the best they can be.

The World Magic Cup

The World Magic Cup (WMC) has so many amazing qualities, but so many problems, and I’m not sure if the positives outweigh the negatives. The concept of an international team event is fantastic, but the execution hasn’t delivered.

I love any competition that involves national pride. I don’t really enjoy many of the Olympic sports on their own, but I still find myself tuning in to events I would never watch otherwise. For soccer’s World Cup, I change my sleep schedule to cheer on my country and I have never been remotely interested in watching a non-World Cup soccer match.

Last year, I suggested adding more teams to the WMC. It’s a tough sell, I realize, to suggest that countries which already gain an advantage through access to more events should be able to field more teams, but I still think it makes the event better for spectators.

My proposal was that whoever reaches a high threshold of PT points, be it 20 above Platinum, 25 perhaps, would get to captain their own team. Right now, the captain position goes to the player with the highest Pro Point total from each country, but there are numerous ways to expand on World Magic Cup Qualifiers, or to make each one 2 or more slots where necessary, that filling out the additional teams would be equally exciting.

I know that Reid Duke is never going to talk about it, but for fans of Magic to watch an incredible ambassador like Reid put up an amazing season, only to see him be passed by a good friend for the position of Captain of Team USA at the very end hurt. I felt bad for Reid. I know that Reid is never going to root against his friend and teammate in the Top 8 of the Pro Tour so he can captain the team, but the fact that he was even put in the situation is unfortunate. It’s unfair for someone to end a season that far above the Platinum threshold and not receive a chance to showcase themselves in the WMC. Finishing 3rd in the PotY race, not to mention the insanity of finishing more than 25 points above Platinum, is phenomenal. It deserves a fantastic prize.

Due to the qualification structure, the World Magic Cup doesn’t showcase each country’s best talent. Having a GP Top 8 likely puts you in the upper half of the field. If multiple teams aren’t possible, I’d prefer a system where more people have a realistic chance to make their country’s team based on having great seasons. The Top 8 point-getters for each country could play some sort of tournament for the second slot on the team. This could be done at the final PT of the season, on Sunday, but then could only include people in attendance. For some countries, it could just include all players above a certain point threshold, even if under 8 people make that threshold. In the end, this would give the countries with more points a chance to put up some more impressive teams and add that feature to coverage. If the WMC is a chance to show that the smaller countries (or the countries with too little access to tournaments to stay on the PT) have fantastic players, this would create an even better proving ground.

In this scenario, the team captain would remain the top point-getter in the season, but the secondary captain would come from a playoff of the top remaining players in the country based on their Pro Point totals. This creates less bad feeling at the end of the year when two countrymen have fantastic seasons and also creates a much higher level of competition in the event itself. Feature matches would feature more recognizable names, since PT experience and GP finishes would be rewarded more heavily for the chance at this second slot. Allowing WMCQs to determine the two remaining slots is still reasonable.

Speaking of the countries without the ability to play as many events, isn’t the World Magic Cup supposed to be their opportunity to be showcased on the global stage? We can see more players we may have never heard of playing against the best in the world. Players who live in the US and have the ability to attend all the GPs they want to shouldn’t have the opportunity to represent a smaller country that they don’t spend the majority of their time in (note that this does not apply to Shahar, as he and his entire family do live in Israel, and he was listed as American before his family moved back there). If we are going to even the playing field by letting countries with less representation due to tournament inequality field their own team, why are we then rewarding those with dual citizenship who don’t face these same disadvantages? I hate that I would normally root for the underdog, but I don’t want the captains to receive these extra points when they actually live in the US.

The WMC’s pod system is both exciting and infuriating. A quick breakdown of the system: the top 32 teams after 7 rounds of Swiss advance to Day 2. The standings are used to rank every team and break them into 8 different “pods” of 4. For an even distribution, the #1 team and the #32 team are in the same pod, and they are paired with #16 and #17 (Pod B would have #2, #15, #18, #31, etc). Each team plays every other team, round-robin, and the top 2 teams move on to the Top 16. In case of a tie, the higher seed going into the pod has the tiebreakers.

I love so many things about it. I love that you can scrape into Day 2, wipe the floor with your close competition, and move on. But I hate how a team that runs the table with a 7-0 Day 1 can follow that up with a 1-2 finish in their first pod and be eliminated because the #32 team, who went 2-1/2-2 for a 4-3 record on Day 1 went 2-1 in the pod. The 8-2 team, who may have even beat the team advancing, is eliminated while the 6-4 moves on.

The other issue with this pod system is that it opens the door for collusion. Teams are often locked or eliminated going into round 3. Taking an intentional draw or conceding/intentionally throwing a match is just too strongly encouraged by this system (especially when playing against a friend’s team while you’re locked for first or last in a pod). I was told that they were pleasantly surprised that none of this occurred in earlier events. It sounded like that was less the case this year, especially with last-round intentional draws to lock a team out. Advancing at 1-1-1 as the 4th-ranked team in your pod is ridiculous. Draws are not fun for spectators (there’s nothing to watch) and have just been completely eliminated from the Magic Online system, so new players may not even understand them.

Also, did you see how many draws took place in the last round of Day One!? A system that encourages this stuff is not going to work and a new one has to be developed. It’s not in the spirit of competition to lock people out of advancing or securing your own position, but if the incentives are there to do so, it will continue to occur.

The World Championship

This is the event every professional Magic players wants to compete in. It pained me to not be included this year and I hope to be back one day.

I had an issue with the tournament last year when I was first invited, and I know Luis told me the same thing the first year, when he was invited: There are way too many points given away. It was bad when it was 16 players and 12 rounds. 102 points divided among 16 people—a little over 6 per person—is a lot and really makes it tough for the uninvited to keep up (that’s an average of a free GP 2nd-place finish).

Adding 8 players and 2 more rounds? That’s 174 Pro Points given away, over 7 per person, but also spread out to even more top players. It was already so hard to earn a spot and it’s now that much harder to unseat anyone who had an invite.

The slots themselves absolutely need to change. This is supposed to be a competition among the “best of the best” competing, and the current format means that is no longer the case.

Many of you may think that I am referring to something like the Latin American slot, or the second Latin American slot, a.k.a. the “let’s make sure PV has a shot” slot, but that’s not the case. I think the Latin American and APAC slots are pretty reasonable. I don’t think there is anybody out there that will argue that Willy Edel and Paulo Vitor aren’t among the greatest players in the game and nobody can argue the challenge of travelling to enough events to get points when living in Latin America (now, this will again require actually living in Latin America. I don’t think if, let’s say, Willy moves to California with his family while still being a Brazilian citizen that he should have access to this slot, as I mentioned with WMC captaincy). Sure, they don’t have as many points as many players who were not invited, but speaking as someone who finished with more points and wasn’t included, I feel that both earned their spots.

• The Rookie of the Year slot should go. Winning that title is a great accomplishment and if WotC wants to have a great prize associated with it, then by all means, I would support that. You want to give them Gold and make sure they are at every PT? Sure. You want to give them Platinum? OK, sure. You want to give them some middle ground that is the RotY prize? By all means. Something else special—more features in coverage, something to get their name out? I’m on board for any of that. But in the end, they are a rookie. They are, very likely, not the best player in the world. At least not yet. Give them a prize to allow them to prove they belong there and to earn that slot next year. We can’t call this an all-star event of best in the world, cream of the crop, while giving these slots to players that a large number of fans of Magic have literally never even heard of. Let’s instead make sure they’ve heard of them over the next year, give them their invites if they aren’t already Gold/Platinum, and some other prize. Do not invite them to this, and pass that on to top Pro Points.

• The Magic Online Champion slot should go. It looks a little silly to say that, considering that the first person to earn this invite was Reid Duke himself, but then we can also call on the fact that he finished dead last in that tournament and likely wasn’t ready for that competition yet. The storyline was that finishing last gave him the drive to finish stronger the next year, which he did in taking 2nd place and nearly the title—but this is Reid Duke. The man has incredible work ethic and preparation, a world-class player. I don’t think this last-place finish was necessary to give him the motivation to succeed, but it did create a wonderful storyline.

Butakov and Dam both had very solid finishes at Worlds and represented themselves well. They could both very easily go on to have solid pro careers. Great! I’m happy for them, I really am, but I had no interest in watching them at Worlds when I could have watched, let’s say, Ben Stark compete, who missed out on tiebreakers. Give them a similar award to what you give to the Rookie of the Year. Give them a great prize. Heck, give them Platinum or a watered-down version, make sure they are at every Pro Tour and well promoted so they have a chance to “earn” it the next year. Do not invite them to this, and pass that on to top Pro Points.

The slot for the World Magic Cup Champion’s team captain is by far, and when I say by far it isn’t even remotely close, the most wrong. It absolutely can not and should not exist. It is, frankly, downright insulting. They won a team tournament. The “captain” may have been the least valuable of the four players who won the event, why do they get this prize!? They already received a ton of money and 8 Pro Points. They are highly likely to captain the team again next year because of this boon. The entire team got PT invites. Why are they invited to Worlds? If nothing else, this one absolutely has to be removed.

I understand there is no way to fully make this a “best of the best” since some of the best will have bad seasons. That shouldn’t matter. Let’s only reward those who have had the best seasons and have been spotlighted all year. The Pro Tour winner slots are fantastic. I love highlighting the different regions. Last year’s champ is a no-brainer. And make the rest of the slots go to the people who “earned’ them on the planes of Dominaria, with the most Pro Points. Then you can say it’s the best.

Pro Points

The change in Pro Points based on record is fantastic, especially in Pro Tours, although the fact that you can no longer get 2 points in Grand Prix events is bizarre. The current system for Pro Tours is that all players with 36 match points (a record of 12-4 over 16 rounds), receive 15 Pro Points. 33 match points receives 10, and so forth. For Grand Prix, 36-38 match points (or 12-3 to 12-1-2 over 15 rounds) will receive 3 Pro Points while 33-35 match points only gets 1. I think it’s safe to award 2 points for an 11-4 finish in a GP. Yes, it will leave an absolute flood of people getting 2 points at some of these massive events, but I don’t actually think it matters. The majority of the players in those events are amateur (quite clearly, there aren’t that many thousands of competitive players traveling to any one GP event), so most of those points won’t be used. For players chasing Platinum, and likely Gold, that 1 extra point may help, but is extremely unlikely to cause a real problem. For many pro players, the 11-4 GP finish won’t even count in their cap. The people it most helps are those chasing Silver who are able to chain a bunch of 11-4 finishes together. If that’s a very real cost, then WotC is making the right move with the gap and there being no way to get 2 points. I think it’s unlikely that’s the case.

Team Pro Tours

I know I’m not alone in wanting more team tournaments, and WotC has listened with a handful of additional team Grand Prix this year. I would really like it to not stop there. Please bring back the team Pro Tour ASAP. There are many issues logistically, not the least of which is limiting the number of teams (a 600-to-900-person Pro Tour does not sound like a good thing), but being able to mix Team Sealed with Team Unified Constructed format sounds absolutely fantastic. The feature matches every round would be incredible, and Team Sealed, while not nearly as skill-intensive as Team Draft, is still skill-testing enough to be a great Pro Tour format. Make it very difficult to quality, if possible, but the tournament would take the same amount of time to complete as an individual Pro Tour if we use these formats and don’t use draft. I would love for this to happen.

We want team Pro Tours. We need them. Ok, we don’t need them and when I say “we want them,” I am definitely only referring to the people I know, but we really want them! Because of the need to not have PTs get even bigger than they currently are (around 390 players or 130 teams), they would need to make invites very hard to obtain, which seems like the biggest complication. Also, if it’s very hard to qualify, I’m not sure there’s as much public support. I really hope this happens, however, and going Team Sealed into Team Constructed both days before cutting to Top 4 would be incredible.

Mixed Format GPs

I’ve never heard this discussed before, so I’m not sure if it’s not reasonable or nobody has thought of it, but it sounds exciting to me. It would be very similar to the Pro Tour. Day One would be Constructed, likely Standard since the percentage of people who enjoy both Standard and Draft is probably higher than those who prefer Modern and Draft or Legacy and Draft. Same cut as a normal GP but Day 2 breaks into draft pods. The Top 8 would go back to Constructed.

I think this is a unparalleled way to test a player’s skill. We already do it for Pro Tours, so this doubles as great preparation for those who want to reach that level one day. Sealed deck is a high-variance format that I do enjoy greatly, but I think this is a pretty big upgrade. I don’t want to see Sealed events disappear, but the time saved by not having to start earlier or end later thanks to deck registration, swap, and deck build would be such a huge gain for players, judges, and coverage.

Magic is the best game in the world and we’re not far off from having the best events in the world. Let’s make the changes necessary to see it happen.

Eric Froehlich
@EFroPoker on Twitter

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