Every Golden Age Must End: A Brief Synopsis of SCG's Organized Play Changes
StarCityGames' organized play announcement this week shocked and outraged a significant chunk of the competitive Magic community – namely, a large percentage of the individuals invested in the Legacy format. To summarize the important parts of the changes:
-Legacy will no longer be one of the formats at Invitational events; they are now all Modern/Standard. Additionally, Invitational winners also earn a Pro Tour invite.
-Open events will no longer have IQ's with cash payouts on Sunday; instead they will have two Classic events that pay out in prize wall tickets.
-There are now three seasons instead of four in a year, and open points go away for the purposes of Invitational qualifications at the end of each season.
-Open points are no longer rewarded as a prize at IQ's (thus making it harder to qualify for an Invitational by simply grinding IQ's).
At face value, these changes are unexciting, especially as someone who bought into Legacy fairly recently. But, after giving it some thought, I believe it makes sense for StarCityGames to go this route for a couple important reasons:
Reason #1: Modern is on the rise
Despite what many players (myself included) think about Modern, the fact of the matter is that it's not only here to stay; its popularity is continuing to increase. The format bears little resemblance to Legacy, but it's being heralded as the “new Legacy” where Joe McAverage who started playing in Scars or Innistrad or Return to Ravnica is fewer big purchases away from completing a deck for an eternal format than he would be if he wanted to play Legacy. Even if Joe McAverage didn't have any staples and had to buy a competitive deck from scratch, the only Modern decks that rival competitive Legacy decks' prices play four copies of Tarmogoyf – the rest are in the ball park of $2000+ cheaper than a Legacy deck.
What about pre-existing Legacy players? There are a lot of them, but given the fact that Magic has grown so much in the past few years, the number of players who do not have Legacy decks or even have access to Legacy decks to borrow for a tournament like an Invitational has grown to numbers that likely dwarf the number of Legacy players. If you're StarCityGames and you know this to be true, what is your next move?
Reason #2: StarCityGames got what they wanted out of Legacy
My hat goes off to the guy at SCG whose idea it was to buy out all the important Legacy staples and start hosting Legacy tournaments with insane prize support. Acquiring hard-to-find items in abundance is one way to make money, but doing so while simultaneously creating unprecedented demand for them is another thing entirely. Had SCG not gone this route, they would likely be just another tournament circuit with nothing special to speak of going on, and they may have even fallen off the map entirely. In this sense, SCG does owe their success to the Legacy community and the people who bought into Legacy because of their tournament circuit. But now that this is no longer a huge area of growth for Magic, they aren't as incentivized to continue to focus on it.
Just try to think of it from their perspective. They've managed to increase the price of dual lands by several orders of magnitude, but they aren't selling as many as they used to. Meanwhile, SCG hosted the largest Grand Prix ever at the time in March of last year at Richmond, which also happened to be Modern. Prices of popular Modern singles went through the roof and people were more excited about the format than they had been since its inception. Scalding Tarns were still selling like hot cakes, but they were selling alongside Steam Vents and Splinter Twins instead of Volcanic Islands and Force of Wills. What do you do with this information if you're looking toward the future and trying to make the best financial decisions possible for your company?
I think the bottom line is this: if SCG made any move other than increasing their support for Modern to match demand and decreasing their support for Legacy, they would be missing a huge financial opportunity in favor of catering to the sentiments of a decreasing percentage of their customer base. Even as a Legacy player, I think it's insane to expect this of them, especially since their circuit now feeds directly into the Pro Tour where Legacy is not even a supported format. SCG will continue to make money from Legacy, and their margins on it likely increase now that they are investing less into it. It may seem like they've turned their back on the Legacy community, but we probably wouldn't have this large of a community if it wasn't for some bold moves from SCG. The ball is now in everyone else's court to supply enough Legacy to satisfy demand, and there will still be Legacy Opens to attend occasionally. Legacy may eventually go the way of Vintage, but there are still very active Legacy communities in many parts of North America and I don't see that changing for at least the next few years.
Don't misunderstand me: I am not happy with these changes. But, if I were in SCG's position, would I have done the same thing? A thousand times yes. I won't hold it against them for this reason – it's just not reasonable to expect a business to give up a huge opportunity like the one SCG is presented with.
I think the most glaring problem with the organized play changes is the fact that the Sunday Classic events during Open weekends pay out in prize wall tickets. No one that I've talked to likes prize walls. They're bad EV, unless you are buying sealed boosters/boxes, which are also bad EV. Anything useful or cool always costs way too many tickets to possibly be worth buying in favor of sealed product, so the only way these things aren't a complete bust is buying boxes and trying to re-sell them, which takes time and effort. I personally hate these things, and I think this sentiment is shared by many. I will not be playing in any of these Classic events unless I have literally nothing else to spend my time doing on a Sunday.
Another contentious issue (although less obviously a net negative) is that Open points are no longer awarded at IQ's. Regular IQ's are already a pretty weak financial prospect if you're a grinder, but at least progressing a few points towards a qualification for an Invitational was enough of a consolation prize if you didn't manage to win. Now, only the winner of an IQ gets an invite, and nothing has been mentioned about prize support adjustments apart from that. I get why SCG is making this move, since Invitationals were probably too easy to qualify for, but given the money/time given up to go to an IQ, I'd like to see more incentive to actually attend one. As it stands I already didn't really think IQ's were worth my time, and now that is even more the case.
I'm not going to tell Legacy players that they should be happy about these changes, but the reality of it is that this had to happen eventually. SCG may have been the reason many of us bought into Legacy, but we can still play the format outside of their events. The Legacy community is too stubborn to go away anytime soon, and this may be an opportunity for another circuit to pick up the reins that SCG has set aside in favor of Modern. This may spell the end of Legacy's golden age, but after seeing the passion and commitment Legacy players possess for the format, I don't think it's going anywhere.
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