The New Look of MTG Organized Play
Today, Wizards of the Coast announced a new structure for their Organized Play and Grand Prix structures. You can find their announcement here! The main announcement I want to focus on is the change of the Pro Tour Qualifier system.
For the last few years, the system was broken up into Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifiers (PPTQ) and Regional Pro Tour Qualifiers (RPTQ). Players had to win a PPTQ to qualify for the RPTQ of that season, and then finish in the Top 4 or Top 8 of the RPTQ to qualify for the associated Pro Tour. The announcement today announced the death of this system and the reintroduction of the system that existed before. That system was centered on one-day open events(PTQs) with first place earning a qualification. This is still the model on Magic Online and continues to work on that platform. PTQs were that backbone of premier level Organized Play and it seems that we are going back to that. As a player trying to play my second Pro tour, this decision could be what begins a renaissance for Magic Organized Play.
The Importance of Accessibility to the Dream
The PPTQ system was an attempt to give your friendly local game store important events that players cared about playing. It was a valiant effort but the PPTQ system was too removed from the allure of the Pro Tour. Players had to drive to events to try to win an event that would qualify them for a more difficult event that they also had to basically win. By moving qualifying for the Pro Tour to a higher rung on the ladder, it distanced the dream. The dream is what drives every player: the dream of qualifying for the Pro Tour, playing the best of the best and holding a giant check. That's why we all play competitively.
The Occasional Player
Magic generally attracts smart and competitive people and because the game has been around for a long time, there are plenty of players in their mid 30's that still have visions of the dream. Smart people in their mid 30's tend to have a lot on their plates, a consuming job, a family or a bevy of other responsibilities. Magic is an important touchstone at certain times in people's lives, and while people fadeaway from the game, no one ever quits Magic. Magic will always be there, the dream always just one lucky day at tournament away. The dream can be tapped into any weekend at a convention center or community center somewhere in your region with the PTQ system. The PPTQ system built a giant barrier for the occasional Magic player and attacked their most valuable resource, time. Magic tournaments contain lots of the the occasional Magic player. It's not a population the game can afford to ostracize.
So, Just Win You Idiot
The critique of this is, well just win a PPTQ. That's the access to the dream and if you weren't good enough to win a PPTQ, how can you win a PTQ? My response is that it doesn't matter if you ever get to live the dream, we all just want a chance.
Winning literal first place in a Magic tournament is hard. Magic is a game with a lot of variance and is incredibly complex. Even the best player in the room isn't more than 15% to win a 30 man tournament. Honestly, 15% is probably very generous. This leads to players having to play a lot of PPTQs and to get as many bites at the apple as they can. PPTQs weren't high enough value tournaments to merit this grinding for a lot of players, which caused entrenched competitive players at the PTQ level to lose interest and not want to waste a precious weekend on a low value tournament that getting anything other than first was a feel bad. Putting a pseudo time requirement on the qualifying system put a new cost on an already absorbed hobby.
Winning a 300 person PTQ is also really, really hard. Don't get me wrong. But the stakes of playing for a Pro Tour invite stokes the fire of Magic players everywhere. That is enough to get out of bed for, and to wake up 3 hours earlier than you do on a week day to drive across your state to battle against the best players in your region. You feel like you're playing for something important. Playing at a PPTQ didn't have that gravity and was more based on winning an expensive promo card. Gating the excitement of playing Magic from all but the most entrenched players sapped the competitive scene of enthusiasm. The re-implementation of the winner take all PTQ system is going to give the scene a shot in the arm and relit the fire in players all over the world.
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