Recurring Nightmares – Fantasy MTG

Each year, I can track the season just as easily by listening to the sports-related tongue-wagging around the company coffee machine as I can by looking out the window. As a person who has never been particularly aroused by professional sports, I get by in these discussions by knowing just enough to make sure I can hold my own—but I’ll never approach the level of knowledge required to have an informed opinion, or to stick to my guns at all. I stand in awe of the people I know who are capable of spouting endless statistics about their favorite players and teams, and every time I ask them how or why they know as much as they do, I get the same answer: “He’s on my fantasy team.”

The basic idea of a fantasy league is to create interest in a game or sport by instilling an emotional attachment to individual players. While you may still have a favorite team, you invest much more into those players (both on that team and otherwise) when their performance directly influences your score in a competition against your friends.

Football has it (both kinds, even). Baseball has it. Hockey has it—hell, even NASCAR has fantasy leagues. It doesn’t take a defined team element in your sport or game to make a fantasy league, it just requires traceable statistics and enough events. Magic has those things—so why not Fantasy Magic? The Pro Tour runs a season—and even if it didn’t, the calendar year works as well as anything—and there are easy to track stats and notable players to make up teams.

Fortunately for you, despite my complete lack of experience in fantasy sports, I’ve scoured the depths of the internet to find all the important information one needs to design a fantasy league from the ground up.

I envision the Fantasy Pro Tour League (FPTL) as a sort of stripped-down fantasy football league. We’re going to unabashedly steal anything we can from that model, and discard the rest.

In a fantasy football league, each person represents the owner of a team—and gets to pick the name of that team, which is where the fun really begins. A draft, similar to the draft prior to football preseason, takes place where owners fill the rosters of their team. Just as in a real league environment, teams can trade players or call up players from the bench (within certain rules). Each week, based on predetermined statistics contributing to points, the teams compete until a winner is declared at the end of the season. All of this is facilitated, organized, and tracked by a league commissioner, who is often an owner as well.

In my ideal design, I plan for an 8-man league, though the specific number of competitors (teams) only matters if you intend to choose one of the draft formats I’ll suggest in a bit. You can really have as many players as you want, though I expect there will be diminishing returns once you cross a certain threshold. There are only so many consistent Pro Players out there, and if you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel to fill a roster, your points will probably be low.

There are a few ways to score a Fantasy League, the most popular being a Total Points league or a Head-to-Head league. The difference between the two is simple enough—in an H2H league, you have an opponent each week, and you rank your teams based on a W-L record. In a total points league, you just accumulate points through a season, and the highest total score is the winner. I imagine the total points structure will be the more commonly used one for the FPTL, but having a weekly champ is still possible.

The Basic Team Structure

In my first pass at the team structure, I’ve outlined a very basic format for ensuring competitive scores for each week.

Each team has 15 slots for players, with 9 starters and 6 bench players (or subs). These 15 players are made up of any professional Magic player who is selected by an owner in the draft. The bench players are ranked 1-6. If one or more of your starters sits out a weekend of high-level Magic play, bench players are automatically subbed into the starting positions, in order of their ranking.

Draft

With 8 teams running 15-player rosters, there are 120 total players in the league at any given time. This is a lot of players to juggle. If you intend to be Commissioner for your own league, you’ll need to do some research to determine if you’d prefer to have a hard cap of 120 players, or if you want your owners to have freedom to select from anyone with Pro Points.

A good place to start looking for players to add to the pool is with the previous year’s Player of the Year standings, which can be found on Wizards’ website (the standings for 2012/2013 are found here. For my own league, I’ve combined this list of 220 players with the updated Pro Tour Hall of Fame list, for a total of around 250 names. I’m willing to guarantee that there are additional players deserving of being in the draft, but you have to start somewhere. Maintaining a list of reasonable selections is part of the work of the commissioner, so as players have breakout performances, it’s worth it to make sure they stay on the radar screen.

When it comes time for owners to actually draft their teams, I envision three potential options for the draft format:

 

  • Rochester Draft. This type of draft is traditionally used for fantasy league drafting. You begin with a visible list of the entire possible player pool laid out, and successively take turns picking a player until all the roster slots are filled. First pick is randomly distributed for the first year of the draft, while the last place team from the previous year gets first pick in successive drafts. One of the benefits of this style is that your draft position is a bargaining chip that can be used to tempt other owners into trades late in the season. While this may be the most familiar of the draft styles, it is not the only one available.
  • Hybrid Auction Draft. Each team gets an arbitrary budget (the same across the board), and owners nominate players for open bid. Highest bidder takes the player. When you’re out of money, you sit the rest of the draft out until the bidding wars end, and then the Rochester draft fills remaining slots. To some extent this mitigates the advantage associated with pick orders in Rochester Draft, and adds another facet of skill to the proceedings. Since there is still a Rochester portion of the draft, this is the place where trading pick orders for advantage in the auction portion can really open the draft up for gamesmanship.
  • Cube Draft. Who doesn’t like cracking packs? The League Commissioner is responsible for assembling a draft pool (call it a Cube) with a card for each player in the league. Create a pool of 240 players who are potentials. Create 3 packs of 14 players for each team in the league. Traditional Magic draft rules apply. After creating a team of 16 players, any extras that didn’t make the cut drop into free agency.

 

Free Agents/Trades

If the players in your starting roster are your main deck, and the bench players are your sideboard, then the rest of the players in the draft that weren’t picked up by any team are your collection. This collection is made up of free agents, who aren’t affiliated with any of the league’s teams. At certain points in the season, you’ll be able to pick up players from free agency, and switch them into your roster. This is done through a process called “waivers.”

Each team has a pre-defined number of waivers they can use at certain times to pick up free agents. For my league, each owner will get one waiver every week. These are processed in reverse standing order—that means the last-place team gets first dibbs on their new player, if they’d like to use it. As commissioner, it’s my job to inform owners if they need to make a new selection because an earlier waiver took their chosen free agent. In my league, a player can be picked up from free agency and go directly into a starting lineup, but the player dropped must have been benched for at least two weeks.

In a similar manner, owners are able to make trades between themselves for players and waivers, or for things like draft positions and auction budget. These can be negotiated by the owners independently of the commissioner, but must be approved by the league prior to being ratified. This can either be done by a vote of the owners, or approval can be handled by a trade ref (appointed by commissioner). If a trade involves the ref, the commissioner’s approval is required. If a trade involves both parties, an impartial third (appointed at beginning of season) will approve. I know it sounds complicated, but the goal is to avoid any disagreements because of lopsided trades or someone being unfairly treated when they’re in a vulnerable spot. We’re all friends here.

In my league, I’m locking in a rule of no free agents or trades before the third week of play. Each team must play 2 weeks with its starting roster.

Free agent waiver and trading deadline is Wednesday of each week. A league email account (or the personal account of the commissioner, or a Facebook group, or whatever) is notified if you plan a trade or waiver use, and these are ratified or updated as necessary before final rosters are posted on Thursday.

Rosters

Each week on Thursday, team rosters are posted. This roster includes:

  • 9 Starters
  • 6 Bench (ranked in order for sub purposes)

If a player decides to sit out a weekend of play (say, they have five strong GP finishes and there weren’t any cheap flights), they are auto-subbed by the #1 bench player, until all 9 starter slots are playing. If more than 6 players on a team sit out a weekend, you should have planned better and you only field 8.

Points

This is the major deviation from the standard fantasy football rules. There are a ton of ways you can score a league, and plenty of statistics available to rank on. My system is as simple as I could manage while capturing events like the SCG Open series as well as GPs and PTs.

Tournaments have varying levels of value. These will be structured similar to their multiplier for Planeswalker Points.

SCGO/Similar level – 0.5X multiplier
Grand Prix/WMC – 1x multiplier
Pro Tour/World Champs – 2x multiplier

 

Top 64 – 1 point
Top 32 – 2 points
Top 16 – 3 points
Top 8 – 4 points
Top 4 – 5 points
2nd – 6 points
1st – 8 points

(SCG Open level only distributes to Top 16)

The idea here is that you can gain points from basically any competitive event, but they will be drastically reduced when compared to a major WotC-sponsored event, and you’ll be required to perform much higher in them to gain any points. Winning an SCG Open is a points equivalent to making Top 8 of a GP. This isn’t meant to signify any equivalence in difficulty or accomplishment. Coordinating a system like this requires a lot of fine-tuning, and it’s a work in progress.

As I mentioned above, you can handle these points in a number of ways. You can track them through a full season of play, with the winner being crowned at the end of the year, or you can pit two players head-to-head and the score at the end of the weekend dictates the winner. This system allows you to have games to track even when there aren’t any GPs or PTs on a weekend.

Other Options

Before I dove into designing a league from whole cloth, I asked around a bit to find out if this kind of thing was being done already. Unsurprisingly, there was at least one group out there already participating in their own fantasy league, passed along to me by Lucas Siow, and designed by Tyler Longo. Lucas was kind enough to share his league structure with me, and they’ve taken a similar approach.

Each team has 7 players per week, with 1 bench slot (8th player). The team must be comprised of:

1 Canadian
2 Silver (or lower)
2 Gold (or lower)
2 Flex Slots (anyone)

A Silver player could be in a Silver, Gold, or Flex slot. A Gold Canadian could be in the Gold, Flex, or Canadian slot. An American Platinum player could only be a Flex.

The idea behind the Canadian slot is to force the teams to pick players that aren’t obvious, and to recognize that Canada is actually kicking butt in Pro Magic right now.

If a player gets promoted in the Pro Player’s Club (say goes from Silver to Gold), he loses the previous eligibility the next week. Coordinate with the commissioner to correct your roster.

Rochester Draft with random order.

Each week you earn points based on the number of Pro Points your players earn, with the following multipliers (this makes each player on your team have value):

Silver slot – 1.5x
Canadian – 1.25x
Gold – 1.25x
Flex – 1x

If your 7 players earn 0 points on a weekend, you get -1 point to your team’s total.

This is a huge impact when your overall points are going to be so low. Because it’s difficult to earn Pro Points in the first place, losing even a single point can be a great blow. With less players on the roster and less opportunities to score, Tyler’s scoring system looks like soccer compared to my American football.

You can only make 10 add/drops for the whole season. Trades count toward this total.

Winner of the league is the player with the most points at the end of the year.

Lots of leagues cap the number of total roster changes you can make through a year. Personally, I want to encourage my owners to try and predict hot streaks, and track which players are successful in specific events or formats. This is why my bench system is so deep, and why a player is required to head there first before being dropped.

Go Forth

I have never participated in a fantasy league of any kind, and the idea of doing so for a sporting event kind of makes me ill. I don’t have the patience or compulsion to get that specific and detailed in any sport—it’s hard enough for me to even sit and watch a game as is. Still, I can’t ignore the amount of time and effort I put into watching coverage of Magic events every weekend, and reading content every morning. It seems a natural fit that I would make the next step and plan some fantasy Magic for my friends. If you are anything like me (and chances are, if you’ve gotten this far, you’re very much like me), this can be an appealing way for you to further immerse yourself into the Magic community, and bring some friends along for the ride.

We’ve drafted fantasy teams for the last three Pro Tours. Doing so for an entire season is a natural extension of that game. We’re already planning an in-person draft for the next year of Pro play, where we’ll be selecting our starting rosters, watching coverage, and drafting Cubes. I encourage you all to take the initiative for your own local groups—become your area commissioner, and let me know what you think of the FPTL design, or any changes you make for your own league (especially if you have experience with other kinds of fantasy leagues)! Good luck, and enjoy the draft!

 

Adam
@AdamNightmare

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