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PV’s Playhouse – Reviewing the Organized Play Changes

Hello!

Today, I’m going to go over the recent changes to Organized Play and what they mean to us players. You can read Helene’s comprehensive explanation here.

On the surface, the changes seem to be all positive. Let’s break them down:

Silver level now grants an invite to the next Pro Tour. This is the most important of the news, as it solves one of the bigger issues with the old Pro Players Club—the fact that it was very much “all or nothing.” Getting 29 points in a season is a big accomplishment, and it was very annoying that you got effectively nothing for your troubles. Well, now you get an invite. People complained, and were right, that it was too hard to get on the train—it’s still hard now, but this change definitely makes it a lot easier. This also gets rid of the Sponsor’s Exemptions, since theoretically Silver invites affect the kind of people that would get them, which means way less Twitter drama—unclear whether that’s a good or a bad thing.

There is, however, one glaring problem with those invites: they invite you to the next Pro Tour, period. The issue is that many of the things that would get you to Silver also invite you to the Pro Tour, effectively wasting your slot. Imagine you have 12 points, then you win a GP, getting to 20—you’re now Silver. You get an invite from winning the GP, and your Silver invite is irrelevant.

Now, imagine the exact same scenario, except you had 11 points to begin with, not 12. You win and end up with 19, and an invite. Then, at the Pro Tour, you get a minimum of 3 for showing up, placing you at 22 and Silver level. Then, you get an invite to the next Pro Tour as well. In this scenario, it’s better to win the Grand Prix when you have fewer points. It’s also better to lose the finals in many situations, as that guarantees an extra Pro Tour invite. I don’t think this is a good or healthy thing.

So, how do we solve it? The first solution that came to everyone’s mind is to simply let the Silver player choose for which Pro Tour to use their invite—that’s the way it used to be when this kind of thing existed, after all. Wizards doesn’t love this idea because they want to keep the size of the PT in check—they don’t want every Silver player skipping the PT in Europe and using their invite for the first PT in the U.S., for example. Fortunately, I think you can solve this by simply giving them an invite for the first PT they are not qualified for. This way, you completely eliminate the problem while making sure the PT size stays relatively contained and completely predictable.

Silver, Gold, and Platinum now receive Magic Online QPs (10, 15, and 20 respectively). For those who don’t know it, if you have 15 QPs in a season you can play a satellite qualifier for the MOCS qualifier. If you have 35 points, you’re in the MOCS qualifier without having to play any satellites. Those MOCS qualifiers happen every month and qualify you for the MOCS, which is an online tournament with huge prizes.

I love this change—it’s very small, but it signifies a move in a direction I really like. It’s particularly satisfying to me because I’ve been talking about that for a while, and though I was obviously not the reason they implemented this, I can’t imagine my bringing it up hurt. The main idea here is that a player who already spends a significant amount of time playing Magic does not have to spend as much grinding QPs to play in those events. I’m just not sure why they wouldn’t give Platinum pros the full 35 points—it can’t change much logistically.

This change is another step toward merging online and real life Magic, which I think is a good thing. If someone spends eight hours every day playing Magic Online and they win a lot, I think they should be qualified for the WMCQ, for example—no sense in making them play FNMs when they effectively already do that. They need to make sure to avoid something like the first Planeswalker Points change, in which it was better to play a lot than to actually win, but with careful planning I think we can get to an even better integration system.

Grand Prix Trials now give a maximum of two byes. I also like this change. It’s obviously worse for whoever wins a Grand Prix Trial, but byes were becoming a major problem (there were too many, so it devalued them greatly and tournaments took way more rounds) and the solution would be to either stop the last-minute trials (of which there were like 50+ every GP, I would imagine) or to cut the number of byes given. This is the more elegant solution, I think.

Grand Prix are now capped at 15 rounds (9 on Day One and 6 on Day Two). To make up for that, everyone with 39 points (or a 13-2 record) will get an invite to the Pro Tour. I really like the part where you will get an invite even if you would theoretically miss on breakers, but I personally don’t like the cap. People have been acting like this is a huge upgrade, but it merely addresses a symptom and not the actual problem. The best solution would be to improve logistics so that you can have the number of rounds necessary to accommodate the increased number of people—all this does is ensure that you need an even better record to Top 8.

If you are 7-2 on Day One, forget it, you can’t make it—that’s very depressing. Assuming you are 13-2 and in 10th place at the end of round 15, wouldn’t you rather have played an extra round on Day One? This is a good change for logistics, surely—no one liked going home at midnight on Day One—but it’s not a encouraging if you’re a good player and you want to win the event.

Gold players now receive $500 when competing at a Pro Tour. Well, nothing to see here—a strict upgrade, obviously. For many of us, $500 is not a lot when compared to how much it takes to get there, but for most Americans this is good for the plane ticket and sometimes accommodation too. Incidentally, it now means making Gold actually means something to people who are in the Hall of Fame—previously, being Gold or not made absolutely no difference.

Platinum players (and Hall of Famers) now receive free sleep-in special. For the unfamiliar, when you have byes in a GP you don’t play rounds 1-3, but you still have to be there at 9-10 a.m. to hand them a deck list. This makes absolutely no sense, since, if the tournament is Constructed, you can just send it through a friend rather than actually being there four hours before you start playing. So they started doing the sleep-in special—which means you can either send your list through a friend or through e-mail, and only need arrive once you actually start playing (which is often after 1 p.m. for people with three byes). The problem? They charged for it, and not a small amount (often $20). I never understood how they could possibly justify charging for what is basically nothing. People who supported it did so because they were used to things being horrible and looked at the reasonable as an “extra service” when it should have been the default from the very beginning.

Now they have placated me—I no longer have to pay for that. I will, therefore, stop complaining about it from a personal point of view. But I still think it’s absurd that they charge anyone for it, and, if you are angered by that (and I can’t for the life of me comprehend why you wouldn’t be), I completely support you being vocal about it.

Whoever wins the Pro Tour automatically becomes Platinum. This is unlikely to affect many people, since most PT winners get to Platinum anyway, but it’s strictly beneficial for those it does affect so it’s obviously a good thing (as long as they don’t take anything else away because of this, but again it is so minimal that I don’t think they will).

Only your Top 5 GP results now count toward your Pro Point total. I have mixed feelings about this. Overall it is definitely positive, since people are not forced to go to many events anymore—if you live in a place like Brazil, for example, it is really costly to go to GPs, so the less you have to attend, the better. The problem arises if they don’t account for this change properly in the new Pro Point thresholds.

The thresholds for each level are now 5 points higher. For Silver, you need 20; for Gold, 35; and for Platinum, 50. This might be a good thing, and it might be a bad thing. We gained a Pro Tour from last year, which would itself offset this margin, but we also lost all the GP results after the top 5. This affects a lot of people differently—Kibler, for example, mentioned he would have lost like 12 points this year. Josh would have lost 8. There have been years in my career when I would have lost 0, and years when I would have lost a lot. If you add a Pro Tour but remove those bonuses, then can you get five more points?

My feelings at first glance say that it’s going to be harder. Helene said they wanted about 30 Platinum players, and that they had done the math based on that, so I’m going to give them credit, because I have not done any math myself. Still, intuitively, it really seems like we’re not going to get more than 20. They mentioned that Platinum players of late averaged 8 Pro Points per Pro Tour, which would take you to 32—you’d then need 18 points from a mix of GPs and Players Championship/World Championship. The problems with that are:

1) It assumes 8 points truly is the average per Pro Tour. 8 points might be a bit high, which will be harder to match now that you have to average it for yet another PT. Further, 8 points might not be an average per person—if someone gets 100 points and another person gets 49, that’s still one Platinum player and those extra points effectively get wasted. The Pro Tour does reward spikes (unfortunately), and this offers you an extra chance to spike, which is not irrelevant, but if your plan is to be consistent, averaging 8 at yet another PT is hard.

2) It says nothing about Gold or Silver. I have no idea how many points Gold players get per Pro Tour, but grinding Grand Prix was a path to Gold (though a costly one), and now it’s not. People who are trying to get on the train are not qualified for all Pro Tours, so it’s possible that an extra Pro Tour does not even impact them in any way (especially if they don’t let you put your Silver invite toward a Pro Tour you actually need it for). Now, not only do they have to ignore some of their GP Results, but they also need five points more! Obviously you have another shot at a Pro Tour, and if you can qualify to that then you’re probably fine, but it’s annoying to know that the option to grind GPs for some extra points is not there anymore and it’s being replaced with something that you might not actually be able to use. Basically, I think this is good for Gold players trying to maintain Gold, but hard for Silver/nothing players who want to reach Gold, though the extra invite from Silver makes up for that.

3) Not everyone is in the Magic World Cup or Players Championship. It’s very possible to do extremely well and not get to those tournaments—there were many Platinum players last year who could not go to either. Only one person from the U.S. gets to go to the World Cup on Pro Points, for example, and the U.S. always has many players whom you would definitely expect to be qualified to “everything.” Furthermore, people who are trying to hit Gold (or Silver) are not going to be qualified for those, so they can’t count on those points. If you are not playing in those events, then, even if you do average 8 points per PT, you need 18 from GPs, and that’s a lot—A Top 4, a Top 8, two Top 16s, and a Top 32, which would be considered a very successful season by almost any metric, only amounts to 17. If you get four Top 8s that’s only 16!

The Players Championship/World Magic Cup raises another issue—it’s now even harder to catch someone who played in those events the previous year. If two people are on similar skill levels and go to similar numbers of tournaments, then the person who went to the Players Championship the previous year is likely going the following year as well. Last year that was already an issue, and now that you can’t even go to more tournaments to make up for their lead (since only top 5 count), it’s an even bigger issue. There is interest, of course, in seeing the same people in those tournaments—it helps build a brand—but when those points are being factored in as a way to Platinum and some good people will necessarily not have access to them, well, that’s annoying. There are a couple of solutions for this dependency on World Cup/Players Championship points:

1) Increase the amount of people in the Players Championship to 32. 32 is an “elite” enough event, will allow for good coverage, and it works even better as a tournament because there is less inbreeding (last Players Championship, our 4-person team made up 25% of the tournament, for example). There will be more costs with airfare and lodging, but you wouldn’t have to increase prizes—I don’t think anyone who plays in it would be terribly upset if they had to battle 32 people for a hundred thousand dollars rather than 16, it’s still a ton of money. I know that, if in the year I played there were 32 people rather than 16, I would not have minded at all.

2) Make those points count towards Platinum, but not for the World Cup/Players Championship of the following year. Each person would then have two Pro Points totals—one they can use to determine their level and one to determine who goes to those tournaments. This would not get rid of the, “it’s hard to get to those levels if you are not in the Players Championship,” but it would break the “infinite loop.”

3) Make those tournaments not give out Pro Points and then lower all thresholds a bit.

4) Make the Pro levels people-based rather than threshold-based. e.g., say you want 30 Platinum players, then just give Platinum to the top 30. This does not address the “the rich get richer” issue, but solves the “maybe they miscounted” concern. Still, I don’t really like it as a solution—I think having an actual goal to shoot for is important because it lets you plan things better. You might skip an event because you think you’re safe and then all of a sudden three people close to you Top 8 and you’re drawing dead. I also don’t want to have to cheer for my friends to lose, which will invariably happen if this is adopted (though it already happens in some cases because of the Players Championship).

There is also the concern that you will never become Platinum in the middle of the season with this, which is strictly worse and probably makes it so that this cannot ever be applied for Gold and Silver. If their calculations are wildly off, then of course I would rather it be the top 30, since it’s just going to encompass more people and would be a net positive, but if the average really is 30 then I would rather have it be based on points.

5) Make it, “whichever is bigger: top N players of X points.” That would be the best of both worlds—you are still point-based, but with the guarantee that you won’t be in trouble if they miscalculated by a lot. I don’t think they are going to do this, but it would be the best possible scenario for people who are gunning for Platinum.

Overall, I think the changes are definitely steps in the right direction—people complained about real issues, some big, some small, and WotC addressed them. Furthermore, it’s entirely possible that their math is correct and their predictions are accurate, in which case we’re left with pretty much all positives, and if they are wrong they can always fix it in the future (I think they should and will remove the overlapping from Silver levels, and Helene has said they are not opposed to reviewing the thresholds mid-season if it turns out they’re way off).

Bonus: They announced the locations for the next events: Atlanta, Portland, Hawaii, and a “to be decided” European city for the PTs—and Nice, France for the World Cup. I can’t say I particularly love those places. When I started playing, one of the biggest allures to me was getting to see places that I knew I would never visit otherwise. Nowadays, I’ve already seen a lot of places, so this is diminished, but I still like going to different locations—there is absolutely nothing I want to do in Atlanta or in Portland (and there’s even a Grand Prix in Portland in a couple weeks!).

A couple of years ago, there was a Pro Tour in Asia every year—Japan, Kuala Lumpur, etc. I rather liked those. They let me travel to nearby events and I got to visit Thailand and Singapore while I was there. Those places are very different from anywhere else, they are an incredible life experience, and I would like for players who are starting to travel now to have the opportunity to see what it’s like. They are also good, of course, for the people who live there—Asians used to have a “local” PT every year and now they have nothing remotely close to them. It also helps convincing your parents/relatives/friends that playing Magic is good: “I won a ticket to Japan,” is way more impressive than “I won a ticket to Atlanta.” Thankfully, there’s Hawaii—most Pro Players have been to Hawaii three times already, but I really enjoy it and I am glad to be able to go a fourth time. If you haven’t been there yet, it’s a fascinating place and I would recommend staying longer and doing touristy stuff, like scuba diving, renting scooters, or see the volcanoes.

It’s obvious that my perspective is not universally shared. There are a lot of people who would kill for all-local PTs. When you have the option of taking a 3-hour flight to a “local” PT, I can see how you might prefer that over a 15-hour flight to a more “exotic” location (though I would still prefer the exotic location). As for me, though, my flight is never 3 hours—it’s going to be either 25 hours or 35, and then I’d much rather spend the extra 10 and go to an actual nice place.

I understand, of course, that they didn’t pick Atlanta because they thought it was the most exciting location. In all likelihood, it’s much cheaper and easier to have an event there. I accept that (I don’t have much of a choice really), but the fact that most PTs are in a place I don’t actually want to visit certainly makes me look forward to them less, and I imagine it diminishes the excitement for those trying to qualify as well. I can only hope that the unnamed European city is something super awesome, like somewhere in Greece or, perhaps, French Polynesia (that kind of counts as Europe, right?).

Well, that’s about it. I hope you’ve enjoyed this, see you next week!

PV

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