With Standard on hold until Magic Origins, I want to check in on the PPTQ season so far—what’s going right, and what’s not working.

Pros

1) Nobody will ever worry about missing an entire season again

For some PTQ players this was very possible, but now there’s upwards of 20-40 events in a season spread out over three months. Pretty much anyone in a dense area can find a few Saturdays or Sundays off to go battle. It was very possible to miss every nearby PTQ when there were only two or three Saturdays in a season. You don’t have to plan around a few important weekends anymore.

2) Format diversity

While we still aren’t where we should be in terms of format balance, at least Organized Play is making a serious attempt to get stores to allow Limited and Constructed players to battle during the same season. This was something I always liked about the Magic Online PTQs, since players that prefer a specific format aren’t left out, or if they get burnt out on Standard or Modern they may have another option without waiting until a new season starts. It’s a huge improvement over the past PTQ season.

3) Low pressure events

While they aren’t quite as easy going as Grand Prix Trials were, there’s no real anxiety in playing PPTQs. Toward the end of the season there may be some pressure, but even then there’s barely any time to mourn your failure before getting thrown straight into the next set of PPTQ events. They aren’t a bad introductory event, although I’ve been noticing that in some regions this is less true.

Cons

1) Inconsistent Standards

Without specific rules in place, the player experience gets a bad case of whiplash. To give some examples, here in the Bay Area we’ve seen PPTQ payouts ranging from less than two boxes for the Top 8 with a $25 dollar entry to ones that paid out up to $2,000 in store credit for $30 entry. The level of judging is all over the place, and a lot of that comes from store owners not vetting judges or only hiring one to take on 40+ people at competitive REL.

Space is also a huge concern, many of the PPTQs in the area were very fortunate in that they just brushed against their caps instead of going over. The actual caps are rarely outright stated and preregistation is nowhere near standardized. While I haven’t seen any as bad as the standing-room-only-Bed-Bath-&-Beyond PTQ or the no-chairs-no-problem warehouse PTQ from the old days, some venues are borderline untenable with the number of players let into the event.

It’s not going to be long before a lot more people start getting turned away from events due to space considerations. The number of stores willing to reach out for more space are pretty low to begin with and there’s not a lot of reason for them to expand without knowing they’ll see a significantly larger turnout. On the other hand, despite a built-in audience, many stores are finding they make very little or are losing money on PPTQs. Why? Bad planning, and TOs that are out of their element with more competitive crowds.

To give some example from the Northern California region—since the PPTQ season began, so far we have had:

  • 4 PPTQs on the same day within a 2-hour drive from each other
  • 3 PPTQs on the same day within an hour of each other
  • Now we have an RPTQ and 3 PPTQs on the same day

Even if we had twice as many PPTQs as we currently do, this would be poor planning and bad business. There’s no good reason some of these should not have been on Sunday. The scheduling against the Regional PTQ is even sillier, since by default 25-30 of the players most interested in playing PPTQs will not be able to attend. The majority of our area’s PPTQs were slammed together on only Saturdays, with barely any mix of formats and all put up against each other. Players certainly weren’t the winners when this happened, TOs aren’t winning because they make less money, and the grinders lose out on up to 1/3rd of their total shots in a season.

2) PPTQ burnout is real and it’s starting to kill interest in competitive Magic for some people

I understand that the counter-argument is that this falls on the individual players, but the original roll-out of Planeswalker Points showed just how far some players will go to qualify. There may have been a grind before, but ultimately it was controlled by how many PTQs someone could reasonably attend in one area.

I’m not trying to blame Organized Play for RUINING MAGIC!!! However there’s definitely some drawbacks to the current PPTQ structure where we have an endless stream of events.

But, if the events are run well and have decent prizes, at least you don’t feel like a chump just for showing up. When the overall experience from an event is good, your finish becomes more of an afterthought. This is especially true when these players know they may be back the next season playing in the same event.

3) GPTs are dead

The attraction they have to players is near zero. I can run one for a local Grand Prix and maybe 20 people would show up to it. They are effectively throw-ins for our normal competitive events because very few people want to come for byes. We’ve known that for a while, but PPTQs were the final death knell for GPTs. They should simply eliminate them or roll them into the PPTQ program, because right now they are a waste of time in many areas.

This has wiped out the primary stepping stool for many players and instead are thrown into the same grinder pool as the PPTQ circuit. It’s also eliminated any LGS-level competitive events that are supported by Wizards of the Coast. At this point your options are to be a big enough local presence to run your own 1K-style events, PPTQs, or SCG IQs. That’s it.

4) From a TO perspective, there’s nothing I can do to compete with PPTQs in my area

There’s nothing I can offer players that can compete with an RPTQ qualification without taking a massive loss. At one point I bumped the prizes up to $1,500 without changing the entry fee just to see if that would create a big enough turnaround. Nope. My difference was a whopping three players compared to the 1K run a month before.

Even if a store is willing to take these losses to try and compete, ultimately I think the PPTQs will still win out. Players will complain to me about the prizes at their local PPTQ, but ultimately the prizes outside of 1st can be jack and squat and 30-50 players will still show up. This may only be the case locally, which in part is why I’m writing this article, but if it’s the case elsewhere then I’m a bit worried that the only competitive fare we’ll see is “Go Big or Go Home”-type events every few months, instead of consistent $500-1000 payout tournaments.

Why is this a bad thing? Shouldn’t players only benefit from competition over their time and money?

There’s a big difference between competing and putting out a product that TOs literally cannot match. If PPTQs discourage other TOs from running events on the same day, there won’t be any incentive to entice players to attend with better prizes and interesting formats. That being said, I see three potential solutions:

• Run competitive events on Sunday. There are some players that simply won’t come play on a Sunday, but at least there’s no competition from PPTQs—for now.

• Limit what I do and run the go-big events once every month instead of a spread of events over different formats. Either pick Modern or Legacy when it’s Standard PPTQ season to give players an option, or simply run Standard with some ridiculous payout because it’s the most popular format.

• The best solution may be to give up on competitive-level events and instead swing back focus on casuals and semi-grinders. Give them something to do on the weekend and give up on the really competitive players. What it takes to lure them back just isn’t sustainable by any measure. Maybe it’s different on the East Coast, but over here I’ve seen people turn down $400-$600 store credit finals splits for the RPTQ slot. Maybe that’s just the natural order of things, but I’m going to be sad if stores generally find this to be the best plan for them.

This season has some real advantages over the old PPTQ season and I’d like to see some of these potential issues fixed before future seasons. This isn’t a complete perspective by any means. If you have feedback, especially ideas that could be implemented on the store level, please share! Thanks!