I played my first PTQ in Seattle in 2005. Back then, they had a PTQ on every GP Day Two. This GP had 400 people. The PTQ had 97.

I remember everyone talking about how large the PTQ was. One guy said it was the largest he’d ever seen, and here it was my first one. Imagine how proud I was to 5-0-2 into Top 8. Losing my quarterfinals hardly seemed to matter.

Fast-forward to 2011. I’d been up drinking malt liquor and grinding Pauper all night, because that’s what living-in-a-basement Caleb did with his time. Right as I was about to pass out on a broken futon, I saw a message.

“Hey Caleb, are you up for the PTQ?”

“I guess I am now.”

I expected to open a crappy pool, lose early, and go to bed. That sounded like the best PTQ ever. I wouldn’t have to wait for my friends to drop before I could leave, and I wouldn’t even have to mope about all day after scrubbing out. Heck, I wouldn’t even have to put on pants. Unfortunately, my pool was amazing, including a Garruk and multiple on-color bombs.

I did everything I could to stay awake. I forced down multiple servings of the same coffee-sugar sludge mix that got me through college. I blasted music and danced to stay alert in between rounds.

I made a few mistakes but scraped into Top 8 on 2nd breakers. An almost 400-person PTQ, and here I was.

The coffee went through me, but the Top 8 draft would go on whether I was there or not, and I couldn’t leave the computer. If I hadn’t had an empty bottle handy, I would’ve literally pissed myself. That’s how much qualifying meant.

And I did qualify. I knew the metagame, and drafted a double Trepanation Blade durdlefest that would beat the slower decks but lose to Werewolves. I got the matchups I needed, and the blue envelope with them.

Sixteen-year-old Caleb was happy to Top 8 a seven-rounder. Sixteen-year-old Caleb didn’t know sh**.

I chose to share these two stories because they show how much PTQs have changed over the years. In 2006, a man called me a liar because he didn’t believe we got 47 people in the Twin Cities. In 2013, an Indy PTQ became a fire hazard because the tournament organizer expected 100 people and got double that. Times have changed.

Last night, Wizards announced updates to PTQs, the Players Club, and GPs. You can check it out here.

In short, GPs will offer invites + airfare to the Top 8 regardless of size. Everyone that goes X-2 will receive an invite, and since rounds are now capped at 15 that’s a very reasonable thing. Also, more prize money for larger events. And it all kicks in early next month.

The Players Club changes are also simple and awesome. In tournaments, Pro Points are granted based on final record, not place, which makes way more sense and takes some of the breaker luck out of the game. For points, your best six GPs count now instead of five, but the only pro level with an increased threshold is Platinum, and it’s only three more points.

The PTQ changes are more complex, more drastic, and more difficult to visualize. Instead of a slew of one-slotters, worth traveling to in and of themselves, they’re instead separating things down into preliminary PTQs and Regional PTQs.

PPTQs are basically satellites, and ideally they’ll be smaller, 50ish-person events. They serve to qualify you for the Regional PTQs, which happen once per season. Wizards expects about 100 people per Regional PTQ, and the Top 4 get invites. If more than 128 people show, the Top 8 get invites.

The first PPTQs start firing in December.

The changes have a lot of implications. Modern has a chance to be relevant year-round, which should bring some stability to card prices. With a less volatile market, Wizards should be able to predict the need for reprints, as opposed to seeing a need and then waiting for printing to catch up.

People who prefer a specific format should be able to find that type of event year-round. With the current system, a player that doesn’t play Modern has to sit out for an entire season. Since Modern is a pricey format, keeping seasons format-specific prohibits newer players from competitive play.

Only having one Regional PTQ is rough if you have a bad tournament, but you could just as easily bomb the actual Pro Tour. The nice thing is that this will reward the consistently good players. The odds of winning the pairings lottery and sacking out twice in a row are quite small, and the new system rewards consistently good play.

In the end, this is a change of necessity. Remember the Hall of Fame? Everyone loves the Hall of Fame. Every year more players get added, and those slots need to come from somewhere. GPs are more popular than ever, and they gave us more of them because that’s what people want. Again, those slots have to come from somewhere, and if they’re going to trim from the PTQ circuit I’m glad it’s by eliminating the one-timers who spiked a single tournament, who might have fun on the Pro Tour but aren’t likely to return.

It’s the end of an era. While I have fond memories of said era, I’m glad Wizards is changing with the times.

Concerns

A new system isn’t going to serve everyone, and there is a diversity of needs across the world. In some areas, traveling 5 hours to PTQ is regular. In others, people don’t even own cars.

Most of the concerns broke down into the following areas:

1) Now it takes two weekends? I can’t take that much time off work.

Answer: “I appreciate that, but as the level of competition rises, a minimum amount of dedication is not an unreasonable thing to encourage.” -Aaron Forsythe.

We’re trying to qualify for the Pro Tour, after all. With the prestige and money involved, as well as the effort most grinders already expend per season, taking two weekends (one with easier travel) doesn’t seem unreasonable.

Consider how difficult it is to qualify in other games. To go pro in League of Legends you need to collect a team, grind up rating, and then play a giant challenger tournament that takes weekends upon weekends to finish.

If you only have one weekend to qualify, 13-2’ing a GP is still reasonable.

2) Now we have to win two PTQs? This seems awful for grinders.

Answer: Yes and no. Overall costs and travel time should diminish. Players will have more, smaller events to choose from, and only the people that earn a shot have to travel for the actual PTQ.

Since it’s much easier to spike a smaller tournament, on average good players will win PPTQs earlier than they would’ve won PTQs, letting them focus on more profitable tournaments and testing.

As far as difficulty is concerned, that’ll depend on the size of the PPTQs. Hopefully, there’ll be multiple of these events around the same area on the same weekend, and players in major cities can choose between formats and locations. If average size stays around 60 people, then winning + Top 4’ing a tougher, hundred-person event shouldn’t be a problem for the strongest players, especially with multiple shots at the 60-person event. If the average PPTQ size is closer to a hundred people, then yes qualifying will be more difficult.

3) Since it’s not a format-specific season, doesn’t this reward testing less?

Answer: It rewards devotion to a specific format less, but professional Magic isn’t necessarily about that. The split format nature of the PT isn’t designed to reward specialists, though testing teams might value that aspect in a player.

Grinding for a living adds to the difficulties. Taking advantage of all the +ev tournaments necessitates experience in multiple formats, and who knows what the most profitable format on MTGO is going to be. (Right now it seems like Vintage. Who saw that coming?)

While specialists still have a chance to play their format of choice, they are going to have to play whatever format the Regional PTQ is. This means that people with multi-format experience, the ones more likely to do well on the PT, are more likely to qualify.

4) So I’m not guaranteed to qualify? Why would I bother with a PPTQ?

Answer: Sure, you’re not guaranteed a slot, but it’s not like you’re guaranteed to cash a PT either. That’s how tournaments work. If this turns out to be a bad change, people will play less and Wizards/TOs will notice.

5) Isn’t this awful for stores? Online-only shops benefited from the venues to vend at, and brick and mortars don’t have these 300-person, wildly profitable events anymore.

Answer: Spreading the wealth to a bunch of smaller stores and exposing new markets to competitive Magic seems good.

The already successful stores won’t have as lucrative of events, but they can still do other things to spike attendance. A lot of shops have been running 5k PTQs, which is an awesome trend, and I hope it continues with PPTQs.

It’s true that online-only stores won’t have 300-person PTQs to vend at, but Wizards just added 10 more GPs, which should help that area of the secondary market.

6) If stores can run Sealed, Standard, or Modern at their own discretion, what’s to stop them from hosting mono-Standard events?

Answer: Beats me. I’m sure some shops will diversify things to reach other crowds, and if the Regional itself is Modern or Sealed there’s some incentive to run the same format, but Standard is the most profitable and popular and there’s nothing to stop stores from flooding Standard PPTQs.

In some areas, Limited or Modern might be more popular, and are way more likely to be featured. Whatever the case, the majority is definitely being served here. Maybe that’s not a bad thing.

Hopefully there will be some diversity. If shops don’t want to run the less profitable Sealed events, perhaps they could be subsidized with product.

7) What about areas that can’t reliably seat 50-100 players for a PPTQ? Places like Japan and Portugal have a lot of smaller venues that seat 20-40 people.

Answer: We can hope the Wizards took the logistics into account. Maybe renting halls will become more popular in countries with small venues?

8) And what about areas where traveling to a regional is harder and more expensive? (South America?)

Answer: This is worse for people in some locations, and I feel you. I grew up in a small town, and the nearest PTQ was an eight-hour Greyhound ride away.

At least MTGO PTQs have returned…

Going Forward

This is a new structure, fresh out of the packaging, and there are going to be kinks and growing pains and all sorts of other clichés. Hopefully it has a chance to improve, as there’s a lot of potential here.

For starters, why not have PPTQs in a format that isn’t Modern, Sealed, or Standard? I’m talking Legacy and Block. They wouldn’t have to be regular things, but there’s certainly enough interest in them so that diehards would travel to the occasional event, and stores would only run them if they thought there was enough interest. If people can qualify off of Legacy GPs, I don’t see why they can’t from Legacy PPTQs. Only supporting the most popular formats made sense when we had format-specific qualifying seasons, but that’s not a thing anymore.

Some have suggested staggering the Regional PTQs out between two different weekends. That way, if someone had something important like a funeral or a wedding they could fly out to a second event the next weekend, which would also help out older players with busy work schedules.

There are some benefits to keeping it all on one weekend. Having a large influx of players fly in sounds like the worst. While only a few people took flights to hit more WMCQs those tournaments were larger. A few more sharks in a field of 100 is a big deal.

Overall I’m excited. I know everyone doesn’t agree with me, and they shouldn’t! It’s a controversial issue that impacts everyone different. Are you looking forward to the new system? Do you already hate it? Are you hesitant, but willing to give it a shot? Sound off in the forums and let me know what you think.

Caleb Durward

Bonus List!

In case your eyes are tired, here’s a Vintage brew with Scuttling Doom Engine and Shrapnel Blast:

Doom Blast, by Randall Witherell