The year 2019 will bring a lot of exciting changes to Magic organized play. If you haven’t read about it, you can find the announcement here. The Magic Pro League will be a great opportunity for 32 of last year’s top-ranked Magic players. More importantly, casual fans will have greatly expanded opportunities to watch and play MTG. There will be more streamers, more high-profile events, and more support for the exciting and user-friendly MTG Arena program.
But as with most changes, you expect to take the bad with the good. Tucked into the announcement is the news that 2019 will be the last year of the Pro Player’s Club, which was previously the main way to climb the competitive ladder in Magic. Nobody is losing the benefits that they’ve rightfully earned, but the path to success in MTG has become a lot less clear. Some deeply-enfranchised players who weren’t included in the Pro League were left feeling a bit lost.
If you’re such a player, I’d like to help by offering my advice. But before that, some disclaimers. First, I make no judgment on the value or viability of a career in Magic. Please, nobody drop out of school or quit your job on my account. This article is for people who have already made the decision to dedicate time and resources to Magic, but simply don’t know the best way to use that time and those resources.
Second, although I am a member of the Magic Pro League, I have no insider information, and I was not asked to write this article. If you’ve carefully read all of the announcements from the past few months, then you know everything that I know. If you find yourself reading between the lines to find hidden messages from me… there aren’t any. This will simply be some candid advice from a guy who’s been around the block a few times.
Pick a Lane
With so much change and uncertainty, it’s easy to find yourself frantic and disorganized. Moreover, for every opportunity that goes away, several more seem to pop up in its place. Magic Online or MTG Arena? MOCS or PPTQ? Should I play at the local store, or get on a plane to compete in a larger tournament?
The best advice I can give is don’t try to do everything at once. Stress and burnout are the most deadly enemies for aspiring players. Plus, many events and tournament circuits have scaling benefits the more you play (and the more you win). Even if you’re a strong player who competes every weekend, you’re still likely to fall short of your goals if you’re not choosing the right events to play.
Play fewer events, but make those events count more. Practice for them, enjoy them, and pick the events that have clear rewards for whatever situation you’re in.
Know Your Limits
On a related note, you should be honest and realistic with yourself about what you can achieve. There are people out there who practice 50 hours a week and compete in the biggest tournament they can every single weekend. You’re still fine if your schedule, or your wallet, or your social life don’t allow you to do that—mine rarely have—but you do have to be smart. If you set unrealistic expectations and try to keep pace with those people, it’s not going to end well for you. Instead, come up with a strategy that fits with your lifestyle and plays to your strengths.
First, identify your limiting factor (or limiting factors).
If it’s money, the first thing to do is to be careful with your travel schedule. Don’t fly across the continent to play an event, only to be forced to skip one within driving distance two weeks later. Travel smart, and keep your costs down on transportation, accommodation, and food.
The next thing to do is to be smart with your deck choice. If budget is a concern, you might not be able to maintain multiple decks in every format. Restricting the number of formats you play can be good for both budgeting and practicing purposes. Similarly, some of the best successes of my career came when I stuck to a tried-and-true deck while everyone else had moved onto something newer and flashier. Borrow cards from friends, and build trust by being honest, organized, and respectful in returning those cards. Do anything to avoid hemorrhaging money on mythic rares you’re only going to use once or twice.
Alternatively, your limiting factor could be your available practice time. Maybe you have a full-time job and only get an hour or two a few times a week to practice. Again, the best thing you can do is plan your schedule carefully and focus on the important events instead of showing up underprepared week after week. Use your lunch break to read articles or study, and make the best use of your limited practice time.
Maybe you just can’t get away on the weekends. Yet again, you should plan your schedule wisely, and make the most of the small number of events you’re going to spend vacation time on. Alternatively you can play online, which, as we’ll see, might just be the best option anyway.
The Pro Tour
Pro Tours aren’t going away. (Although they’re now called Tabletop Mythic Championships, I’ll call them Pro Tours here for clarity.) You can still make it via qualifier tournaments, or success at Grand Prix. While “getting on the train” might not be as much of a prospect as it used to be, you can still chain Pro Tours together by performing well at one in order to re-qualify for the next.
And you know what? It might not be about showing up to every Pro Tour anyway. It might be about making it to the big leagues, taking your shot, and seeing what you can do against the best players in the world. Competing in one Pro Tour has the potential to be an experience of a lifetime for anyone who loves Magic. Playing one Pro Tour is a great goal for players who want to challenge themselves, but might be too busy to really grind.
Grand Prix tournaments (which are held at MagicFest Weekends) pay decent prize money and qualify eight players for the Pro Tour. Before 2019, pros and aspiring pros would often fly to Grand Prix to chase Pro Points—this will no longer be necessary under the new system. Still, being a big tournament that qualifies for the Pro Tour means that you should view Grand Prix as nice opportunities whenever they’re close and convenient. What’s more, the fact that there won’t be a huge influx of elite players with three byes means that performing well at a GP will be more achievable than ever.
The SCG Tour
Next to Wizards of the Coast Organized Play, the SCG Tour is the biggest tournament series in the United States. Opens and Classics are standalone tournaments with decent prize money, and accumulated success on the circuit can earn you byes at Opens and invitations to bigger events. The twice-yearly Invitationals even qualify the winner for the Pro Tour.
Making a run at the SCG Tour leaderboard might be a good option if you’re from the Eastern United States and have the ability to travel on weekends. Sadly, this option is less viable for players in other parts of the world.
Magic Online Championship Series
In my opinion, the MOCS is the best tournament series available right now. Pro Tour invites and plenty of money are up for grabs, and you can take your shot at all of it without breaking the bank on travel expenses. It even has a mix of standalone tournaments for occasional players and opportunities to be rewarded for grinding.
The exact rules of the MOCS change from year to year, and this year the structure has become oppressively complicated. (The level of complexity might wind up driving away recreational players and make things easier for grinders.).Thankfully, you don’t need to memorize all that. You can just play some Magic Online, and check the schedule each weekend for special events related to the MOCS.
The basic idea is that smaller events feed progressively larger events, culminating in a 24-player event with a prize purse of $250,000. Even without winning an event, you can qualify via leaderboard points from consistent performances throughout the year.
In a world of MTG Arena, older formats like Modern, Legacy, Vintage, and Pauper are likely to become the niche of Magic Online. One thing you should know about the MOCS is that it centers around these formats, and the ability to specialize in them. You earn points from playing leagues and the weekend challenge events, and parley those points into format playoffs, format championships, and eventually the Pro Tour and the MOCS finals. Remember what I said about picking a lane?
If I were to be transported back in time to when I was first getting my start in Magic—with little money, no networking, and little ability to travel—my strategy would be to grind the MOCS. I would start by buying into one deck in one format—expensive, but a good investment if you’re serious about making the Pro Tour—and I would get to work. Specializing would mean that all of my practice translates to tournament results, and there would be relevant events to play from my home every single weekend. Since it’s only January, there’s still time to get in on the ground floor.
One last note about the MOCS is that you can get burned if you breach the MTGO code of conduct. Most commonly, this means having other people play on your account, or bribing an opponent for a win. “Hey Jen, I made Day 2 of the SCG Open. Could you play the MOCS for me tomorrow?” This might not seem like a big deal to a newer player, but it’s a serious offense, and I hear about money and qualifications being taken away from people almost every year for similar violations.
Imagine next weekend your choices are: (1) stay home and play an MOCS event, (2) drive 45 minutes to a local store PPTQ, (3) drive 3 hours to an SCG Open, or (4) take a short flight to a Grand Prix. Which should you pick?
Base your answer on your goals and your resources. But perhaps most importantly, you should try to make the same choice every time you face this decision. Someone with a busy work schedule should probably choose the GP or PTQ because it gives them the best single shot at qualifying for the Pro Tour. Someone who’s planning to grind should probably choose the MOCS or the SCG Open because those tournament series reward consistency.
Lastly, stay open to opportunities, and pay attention to the organized play announcements from WotC and all announcements about your tournament series of choice. Announcements are still pending about who can be included in the Magic Pro League in 2020, and about how playing MTG Arena from home will translate into opportunities. Moreover, WotC is adapting to a new world, while trying to incorporate fresh ideas and feedback from the community. The result is that their decisions are rarely set in stone.
In other words, keep your eyes and ears open. In the meantime, play a lot, play hard, and play smart. If you’re passionate about Magic, you can find a way to compete at the highest levels.