PV’s Playhouse – Organized Play Changes

Two days ago, Wizards of the Coast released an announcement detailing a couple of major changes to organized play.

In today’s article, I’m going to go over those changes, trying to figure out what exactly they mean for each type of competitive player.

The New Path to the Pro Tour

This seems to be the biggest change and the one with the most controversy. What it basically means is that PTQs as we knew them no longer exist; instead, they’ve been replaced by Regional PTQs (which I’m just going to call PTQs from now on, but might also be called rPTQs or something similar). Those Regional PTQs are invite-only, and the Top 4 of the tournament (or Top 8 if the tournament has more than 128 people) qualifies. I’d expect most of the PTQs to have more than 128 people. You can only play one PTQ per Pro Tour.

The way to qualify for the event is through “PTQ qualifiers”—or PTQQs. Those are open to any player, and any local store can run one of them (but only one). The winner of each of those events qualifies for the actual PTQ, as well as every Silver level Pro player.

I think that, in practice, this means it’s a little harder to brute-force your way into a PT invite. Most players will have access to a decent number of Qualifiers and if you can travel a little, qualifying for the actual PTQ is probably not going to be the hardest thing ever. Once you do manage to win one of the PTQQs, however, you’re limited to one PTQ—if you don’t Top 8 that, there is nothing else you can do, nowhere else you can travel – even going to another country doesn’t help you. Grinding an invite through PTQs is now harder, and GPs seem to have become the best way to do that.

I think this has good sides and bad sides. For small local stores, this seems like a great opportunity, since they are guaranteed to run a tournament that at least some number of people want to play. The bad side is that it’s just more work. Now, instead of winning one tournament, I have to win one and Top 4 another. Instead of practicing for one format, I might have to practice multiple, since the PTQQs can be any format (the PTQ format is still fixed and seasonal). If you live in a region where you can pick and choose which PTQQs you go to, that’s fine—assuming the PTQ is Modern, focus on the Modern PTQQs and you will only have to practice one format. What if you don’t live in such a region, though?

If you live in a region where there are plenty of tournaments, then it really depends on how much you’re willing to travel and how much time you’re willing to spend. If you do not like playing small tournaments—such as FNM—this is burdensome, and takes a lot more of your time. If you don’t mind traveling short distances but didn’t want to travel far for multiple PTQs, then this is likely better, since you get a lot of small trips and then one big trip, as opposed to multiple big trips.

If you live in a region without many tournaments, then it depends on whether you had access to a PTQ before or not. Take, for example, my hometown, Porto Alegre. If you assume you’re going to drive anywhere in the state—about a 6-hour radius—you might have, perhaps, five PTQQs you can go to. Let’s say that a reasonable number is three that you’re willing to attend. Before the change, we had one PTQ in Porto Alegre—whoever won that went straight to the PT. You could also fly two hours to São Paulo or Rio for another PTQ, but most people didn’t do that.

Now, instead of one tournament, you get 3. Those tournaments will be easier—people who used to fly here from other States are probably not going to do that, so I’d say you’re over three times more likely to qualify for the PTQ than you were to win the PTQ previously, but you still have to win one in three tournaments, and that’s certainly not trivial. Then, after you win the PTQQ, you still have to Top 8 the PTQ! There will likely only be one in Brazil, so you need to fly to it—a 2-hour flight, give or take.

Is that harder than it was before? I am not sure, but it’s certainly more expensive. Beforehand, we’d have, say, 70 local players playing for a slot; one person won an invite, and all the others spent $1.50 in bus tickets. Now, you have, say, 150 players playing for slots. 8 people get it, but the other 142 people spend an average of $100 in plane tickets. That’s an aggregate of US$ 14,200 spent by Magic players on something that effectively has nothing to do with Magic—it gives no return to players or to WOTC, it goes directly to airlines. And it happens solely because the system changed—it’s just a consequence of the change.

The worst part is, this $100 each is not distributed equally. Some people live in São Paulo and will have to pay $1.50, but some live very far and have to pay a lot more. When someone has to win one of three tournaments, and then pay $250 on a plane ticket alone so that they can play a four- or eight-slot PTQ, this becomes a massive investment and one that I imagine most players are not willing to make.

In the end, I think this system is a lot worse for someone who previously had a PTQ, and lives far from where the PTQ is going to be held. Someone from Porto Alegre, for example—or someone from Uruguay or Chile, or another country that had PTQs but is likely not going to have them now. For those people, they have to almost win two PTQs in a row, and they have to spend money and time traveling for an event that before they didn’t have to.

If the system is bad for Latin American players, I imagine it’s even worse for some other players—anyone in the APAC region, for instance. APAC countries are all islands, and some quite far from each other—and now you have to replace a local PTQ with a very expensive flight, from, say, Taiwan to Australia. Some countries might need visas to get to other countries for a PTQ, making the process very complicated. Those places also likely don’t have as many stores, so won’t have many PTQQs (I don’t know how many stores exist in Singapore, but I can’t imagine the number is very high). The people who are the worst off with this are players from the likes of South Africa. Whereas before they might have gotten a local PTQ, now there is no PTQ in their continent!

If you live in a city that didn’t have a PTQ, however, then this system is much better for you. Say you lived in Recife—a city in the Northeast of Brazil with a decently-sized Magic community, that has not had PTQs in a while. A ticket to São Paulo or Brasilia, the nearest PTQ locations, costs somewhere from $300 to $400. Previously, you had to pay that for each PTQ you wanted to go to (which amounted to going to none, for most people). Now, you pay this value once, but you get a tournament in which eight people qualify, so there is actually a chance you might go.

The best benefit for countries like Brazil, to me, is the return of something very close to Nationals. You now effectively play “regionals” and qualify to a big tournament. Those big tournaments bring the entire community together, and they were super interesting to play because of that. You’d see players from certain regions practicing together, arranging teams, and so on, and that was interesting while also boosting the competitive level of the country. This is not the same as Nationals. Being on the national team and having Gold+ players (which this won’t have) certainly made those events more prestigious, but it’s a step in the right direction.

The best way to fix the problems, in my opinion, is to give the plane ticket as part of the prize for the PTQQs. If I get the ticket as well as the invite for the tournament, I’m much more likely to go, even if I live far away. I think this is in line with WOTC’s policy of giving tickets rather than money, and would really make for way more interesting tournaments. Winning the PTQQ and not being able to go to a PTQ because you don’t have the money is just too depressing.

The other possible solution is to simply implement different policies for different regions. It seems very hard to find a “one size fits all” policy with organized play, but it’s not clear to me that we have to find one. Much like the WMCQ works for small countries and doesn’t work for big ones, this change seems to be better for some places and worse for some others, so why not implement it in the places where it’s good and keep the old system in the places where it worked better?

Another issue I have with the system is the tournament distribution, which is currently:

  • 16 in the United States and Canada
  • 8 in Europe
  • 3 in Mexico, Central America, and South America
  • 3 in Asia-Pacific
  • 1 in Japan

For a comparison, here’s the PTQ allocation in 2014:

Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 6.20.41 PM

If we assume 8 people qualify in every single PTQ (so we have to multiply each tournament by 8 invites and then multiply that for each of for seasons), that brings us to:

Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 6.20.49 PM

Now, not all tournaments will hit 128 people, so those numbers aren’t accurate, but we know for sure that Japan, for example, is going to have a maximum of 32 slots, compared to the 44 it had before—that’s three less PTQs per season. Europe also has less potential slots, whereas the US could, theoretically, have 140 more slots than it did before!

With Mexico and South America, the number is greatly increased, which is great—but the problem here is not number of slots, but how many tournaments you can actually go to. Like I said above, many people who had access to one PTQ now have access to zero, because people who had access to one slot before now have access to eight.

Another (and last, I promise) issue I have with this policy is that it groups Mexico with South America. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before many times, but Latin America is a cultural/historical categorization, not a geographical one; Mexico is geographically in North America. Having the “Latin American” tournament in Mexico is like having the European tournament in French Guiana. It’s technically correct, but it misses the point. Who do you think is going to a Mexican PTQ—someone in San Diego or someone in Argentina? Where do you think a Mexican player is going after he wins the PTQQ, San Diego or Argentina?

Now, I’m not saying Mexico should have no PTQs. I know Mexico has a strong Magic community. But grouping us together and calling those tournaments “Latin America” just doesn’t make any sense. If one of those tournaments is in Mexico, this chart should read “North America – 17” and “South America – 2”.

Improving the Grand Prix

There are now more GPs, which is a great change with basically no downside. The GP cap has been increased to six, but now you need 48 points for Platinum—that should make it slightly harder to get Platinum (since you average less than three points per GP result, I think), but easier to hit Gold, since you still need the same number of points.

Prizes are also bigger, and now the entire Top 8 gets an invite and a plane ticket. This will not change much for North America and Europe, but it will be a huge boost for South America and APAC, since their tournaments weren’t big enough to invite the Top 8. In the last two South American GPs, I watched friends Top 8 and lose their quarterfinals matches, which made them feel like the tournament had been a failure when in fact they should have felt awesome. With this change, they will feel great next time this happens. This is a very, very good change for Latin American and APAC Magic.

GPs also pay a fixed amount of Pro Points per record now:

Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 6.21.27 PM

This is a very positive change that addresses the issue of GPs getting too big—now it doesn’t matter that a hundred people have the same record as you, you’re still getting those points.

The one issue I have with this is that I think the number of points is just too low. For many spots, it actually got worse than it was before! 13-2 is a very hard record to get, and needing that for three points seems absurd to me. In many tournaments, 12-3 or 12-1-2 will get you to Top 16, which used to be 3 points, and now it only gets you 2.

I feel like this is easy to solve—you just award Pro Points for whichever is higher, record or place. If someone finishes 15th with 36 points, give them three Pro Points, because that’s Top 16. If people finish 25th or 47th with 36 points as well, then give those people two points. This way the guy who Top 16’d still gets rewarded for his good finish (and doesn’t get punished by the new system), and the people who don’t won’t get punished by the fact that the tournament has too many players.

Change to Pro Levels

Another change is that Gold now gives you plane tickets instead of S500.00. In this case, some people will be exchanging $500 for $100 and others will exchange $500 for $1500. This is a great change for South American and Asian players, could go either way for Europeans, and is likely very bad for Americans, whose tickets are almost always going to be substantially cheaper than that. It is also bad for people who managed to qualify some other way. Say I am Gold and I win a PTQ or Top 8 a GP, I now have redundant flights instead of $500 and a flight. This is a little beneficial for people who aren’t Gold, since they now won’t have people who are already qualified playing in the same PTQs and getting slots. It will also likely lead to the PT being a little big bigger, since more people will go to tournaments now that they have tickets, but it shouldn’t get enough bigger for it to be a concern.

One problem I have with this change is that it was announced much later than it should have been. People spent a year making decisions based on one expected outcome, and now, a week before things change, they realize that what they were aiming for no longer exists. In my case, I skipped GPs because Gold didn’t mean much to me (since it overlapped with Hall of Fame), and the point threshold works in a way that it wouldn’t help for Platinum either. Had I known Gold was going to give plane tickets, I would have made very different plans.

My case, however, is only one of missed opportunity. What if I had actually tried to get Gold because of the $500, and now that no longer exists? What if I traveled to many events just for that? I should have the right to know what I am playing for. This is a very dangerous precedent, and it makes me wary of committing fully to something when I don’t know what it’s actually going to be. What if I spend thousands of dollars trying to grind Gold to get plane tickets and then, at the end of next year, they realize they don’t like that anymore and change it back to $500?

I don’t mind changing things, but I like to know what I am playing for when I have to choose an amount of time and money to dedicate, and knowing that it can just change all of a sudden, at the last possible moment, worries me a lot.

Overall, I think the changes are mostly good. They seem willing to change things to adapt to feedback (in the original announcement, for example, Silver players didn’t get PTQ invites, and now they do because of the feedback), which I think is a great place to be. If it depended on me, I’d keep all the changes, but also do this:

  • Provide help with travel expenses for the PTQ (either WOTC or the TO).
  • Make it so that people get the highest of two Pro Point amounts—by place or result.
  • Try to give more slots to Japan. I don’t think it needs twice as many slots, so perhaps one or two extra PTQs per year would bring it to a more fair number of invites.
  • Make it so that people aren’t greatly advantaged by going to the World Cup or the World Championship. This is a change that they didn’t even touch on, and I think they really should have. Right now, the system benefits people who go to the World Championship too much—it’s already great to go to the World Championship, you don’t need to be ahead of everyone else in the race on top of that. The best option to me would be making the World Championship and the World Magic Cup count for your GP cap. This way, you’re still advantaged (since you usually earn more Pro Points in those), but people who didn’t go to those events could theoretically still catch up by doing better than you.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this,

See you next week!

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