Prologue: Wizards Listens
Upon request, we’ve moved the #mtgdka previews back from January 9, 2112 to January 9, 2012. See we listen. —Mark Rosewater, on Twitter
Wizards listens about more than fixing typos in preview dates on Twitter, though. It listens about things like awarding Grand Prix winners invitations to the Pro Tour.
How do I know? I asked for it.
After the infamous Organized Play announcement (and amid the immediate backlash), I sent Hélène Bergeot, Director of Organized Play, a polite e-mail with the subject “On the Pro Tour Changes – Request for Grand Prix Winners to Receive Pro Tour Invitations,” explaining why I no longer planned to attend Grand Prix events. An excerpt:
“What affects me most among the changes is the end of Grand Prix-based invitations. Offering invitations to the top 16 players, when there are 40 or so Grand Prix events each year, does not fit the new vision for the Pro Tour. I understand that. Yet cutting off all such invitations does not make sense to me, either.
“I have a goal of playing on the Pro Tour, and to that end I play in PTQs. Before the changes were announced, I was also enthusiastic about playing in GP events when my schedule permitted. Sadly, my work schedule does not permit me to play in tournaments every weekend, and so a Planeswalker Points-based invitation to the Pro Tour is out of reach for me. What is my incentive to play in a Grand Prix next year? Why should I attend if I have no chance to ‘go pro?’”
Merely complaining about a problem does no good without providing a possible solution, so I suggested that winners of Grand Prix events receive Pro Tour invitations, and noted the advantages of that compromise:
“Granting invitations to Grand Prix winners is a relatively low-impact measure (10 to 15 additional players per Pro Tour) that would give Grand Prix events a more direct connection to the Pro Tour. If the cost of flights is a concern, first-place payouts could be reduced slightly ($500 per winner or so) to compensate. The sheer number of Grand Prix events suggests that at least one winner will miss the Pro Tour, and the radical overhaul of high-level Organized Play does not need further bad optics.”
I received a well-thought-out response from Ms. Bergeot. I have not asked her for permission to reprint her side of the correspondence, so I shan’t, but she thanked me for the constructive feedback and said Wizards would consider the idea, though likely not in the short term because of how many variables Organized Play was juggling.
Five weeks later, the Spring/Summer Grand Prix update came out. The bigger of the two major changes—surprisingly, the less-discussed of the two—was the reversal of the “flex payouts” announced in August; instead of a $10,000 to $40,000 range for Grand Prix payouts, each 2012 Grand Prix will have a fixed $30,000 payout. The other change, of course, was the newly minted Grand Prix winner’s invitation to the Pro Tour.
I sent another e-mail to Ms. Bergeot, thanking her, and if my work schedule allows me to be in Austin for the Grand Prix in January, I will be there, possibly contemplating whether I should’ve asked for a million dollars and a pony as well.
What’s the lesson? Wizards listens. Give feedback. Be polite. Understand their point of view as you give yours. Know you probably won’t get everything you want. Ask anyway.
The Bad with the Good
The downside of Wizards listening to player feedback is that the company can interpret it incorrectly.
In the November 2nd announcement, this quote left many players shaking their heads:
“As the Magic brand grows across the world, Wizards has faced challenges in attempting to apply a one-size-fits-all approach to certain programs, and Nationals was one of those,” said Helene Bergeot, Director of Organized Play Programs and Operations. “It is up to the regional offices to decide on the size and scope of their countries’ National Championships, and we’ve seen that in many of those countries, the pride of being your country’s champion is a primary motivation for players.”
Letting certain contradictions (see: “We can’t have Nationals be one-size-fits-all” vs. “Friday Night Magic means Friday Night, regardless of what works for local markets”) pass for now, the line about national-championship pride is correct, within limits. Through the end of this year, being national champion carried with it plenty of perks, and a large part of the “pride” was wrapped up in carrying the national flag at the World Championships. The 2012 champions of Nationals will get their titles, sure, but that and $34.02 (as of close-of-business Friday, December 16) will get you a share of Hasbro stock.
Members of the non-U.S. contingent (Zatlkaj, da Rosa, StarCity’s own Barrett) have taken down the poor logic behind the dismantling of Worlds as we knew it, and plenty of American players have voiced their disapproval as well. Unless you’re already qualified for the sixteen-player… championship at Gen Con (“World” and “Worlds” are terms increasingly dissociated from the event), the new event likely doesn’t make you happy.
At sixteen players, the Invitational is calling and wants its name back, while Pro Tour players want their Pro Tour back. There is good news, though, because there are…
Changes on the Way, and a Chance for More
Wizards is starting to realize that the current Planeswalker Points system is like Urza’s Saga: broken and no fun. Changes are coming, though what gets “banned” is an open question.
If you haven’t read it already, Brian Kibler “The Problem With Planeswalker Points” is an excellent review of the PWP system and its current problems. Here’s Aaron Forsythe on Twitter: “We’ve come to many of the same conclusions about PWP as [Kibler]. Stay tuned.” There was a signal at the start of November that was lost amid the hullaballoo. Ms. Bergeot noted:
“We understand the perception is that you can become a pro by accruing Planeswalker Points (grinding at FNMs, etc.). Our intention is that you cannot qualify for the Pro Tour off of small tournaments alone, and we will be monitoring closely to that effect. As we see how the invitations shape up for Pro Tour Dark Ascension, if it ends up that players are getting to the Pro Tour by primarily grinding small events, we will make changes to the system.”
Wizards didn’t get what the company wanted, and changes will be coming. Greg Leeds, President of Wizards of the Coast, has promised a fuller plan for the future of Magic Organized Play in time for Pro Tour Dark Ascension. While Wizards has laid out bold commitments for 2012 based on Planeswalker Points (the FNM Championship, the sixteen-player crypto-Worlds), the structure for 2013 is more open.
For 2013, then, there is a chance to get a proper Worlds back.
Note: the following is a thoroughly unofficial and highly theoretical approach to a reformed Worlds event for 2013. Only Wizards of the Coast knows its exact costs and Organized Play budget. I am going off my best available information to provide a “vision” of how Worlds might look in 2013, and how Wizards could find the money to stage such an event without giving up too much in other areas.
We Can’t Have Everything
A true Worlds 2013 would have to operate under significant financial constraints. As much as I’d like to live in Million-Dollars-and-a-Pony Land, I don’t, and the money Organized Play would spend on a restored Worlds would have to come from somewhere. I have a few ideas.
First to face the ax: the Friday Night Magic Championship. That event isn’t happening next year without radical changes. (How strongly do I believe this assertion? If FNM Championships are announced for next year with essentially the same invitation policies and rules for points acquisition, I will donate proceeds from two articles to Child’s Play. Hold me to it.)
The FNM Championship is a cool idea, but the implementation leaves a lot to be desired. If you play in a small market, too bad for you, because grinders are swarming FNM for the points, and if you aren’t in an area where you can play multiple FNM tournaments, preferably events with ludicrous numbers of rounds, you are out of luck. This will turn out to be a poor use of 100 plane tickets from Wizards’ point-of-view. I’ll take them, thank you very much.
Next up (with apologies to Reid Duke): the Magic Online Championship. Details haven’t been announced for the Magic Online Championship for 2012 (as of this writing), but if the 2011 version is any indication, it will account for twelve plane tickets and $100,000 that can be repurposed.
Last, take the 2012 version of crypto-Worlds. (No, take it, please.) Sixteen plane tickets, another $100,000.
Add the figures, and the totals are 128 plane tickets and $200,000 for prize money. That’s almost as much prize money as a Pro Tour. (I will note that while the official Pro Tour site bills each event as having a prize payout of “over $230,000,” the prize pool and structure for Pro Tour Dark Ascension remain “to be determined.”)
If the cash prizes for this theoretical Worlds 2013 are taken care of, what about the costs, and who gets to attend? The two questions are inseparable.
I’m going to make a very dangerous assumption to start: that it will cost Wizards no more to stage this theoretical Worlds 2013 than it will to set up the FNM Championship and 2012 Crypto-Worlds put together. Space at Gen Con isn’t cheap, and while a full-on Pro Tour has its own costly staging concerns, I am going to trust in Wizards to keep costs down for an event of roughly 200 people.
Who’s in and who’s out?
First, a selection of invitees that can be made ticket-cost-neutral:
Grand Prix Winners – Assuming the same number of GPs as in 2012, this will add 40 players to the invitation list. A plane ticket to a Pro Tour is already priced into the Organized Play costs. Switch the ticket and invitation to Worlds, and this is cost-neutral.
Top 8 Pro Tour Finishers – Assuming a three-Pro-Tour cycle, this will invite 24 players (64 invitations so far). Pro Tour payouts can be shaded to adjust for the price of a plane ticket, and so these 24 players can be made cost-neutral as well.
Now to start handing out tickets…
National champions. In many ways, this is the whole point of the vision: making Nationals matter again. Inviting only champions cuts down on bulk, while still giving Nationals a wider meaning beyond pride within one’s country. There were 68 countries (counting entities such as Puerto Rico) that held Nationals in 2011. I’ll assume that figure holds steady for 2013. Running totals: 132 invitees, 60 tickets left.
Finalists from 2012 Crypto-Worlds – For 134 invitees and 58 tickets left. Two out of sixteen should be a fair number, considering that the 2011 Worlds invited the Top 8 from a much larger number.
Eleven erstwhile Magic Online Championship Participants – 145 invitees, 47 tickets left. The Magic Online events turn into a “global Grand Prix” of sorts for Worlds invitations, minus the “Last Chance Qualifier,” so ten event winners and one Magic Online Player of the Year. Magic Online mavens previously got to “double-dip” the Championship and Worlds; it was good for them, but not everyone else. Sorry, Magic Online invitees. It’s a zero-sum game, and someone has to lose.
Hall of Fame members. Assuming three players make the Hall of Fame for 2012, the HoF will be up to 32 members. These invitations return to the original intent of the Hall: that the legends of the game always have a seat at the table. Running totals: 177 invitees, 15 tickets left.
The Professional Ten. The top ten players in the worldwide Professional Planeswalker Points standings who are not already invited to Worlds get their invitations and tickets. This gives Planeswalker Points an appropriate nod and rewards consistent top-flight finishes while making it clear that the Planeswalker Points invitations are a fallback reward for consistent high-level play in both Pro Tours and Grand Prix, not a main mechanism for an invitation to Worlds. Running totals: 187 invitees, five tickets left.
The FNM Five. If the FNM Championship isn’t working out, what’s another way to incentivize FNM play? I’ll suggest a chance at Worlds 2013, via a lottery. Here’s how it might work: all FNM winners for the relevant time period are separated by Wizards of the Coast region (Asia-Pacific, Europe, Japan, Latin America, and North America) and put into separate pools. Current Worlds invitees and players who do not have Planeswalker Points from at least one event held at a Competitive Rules Enforcement Level are filtered out. Then a name is drawn from each pool. For those lucky five, an FNM win and a venture into the wider world of competitive Magic play add up to an invitation to Magic’s biggest stage. Totals: 192 players invited, no tickets left.
It took a lot of string-and-glue with plenty of cuts and rearranging, but that’s a Worlds with under 200 players while still keeping a link to Nationals and coming in as cost-neutral as I can make it.
The End of the Vision
What is this vision for Worlds 2013? It is a streamlined event, striking a balance between the largesse of Worlds 2011 and the meanness of 2012; a geographically diverse event, restoring the Nationals events worldwide to a place within the larger Pro Tour structure; and a prestigious event, allowing a handful of Friday Night Magic players a once-in-a-lifetime chance to test themselves against proven professionals and national champions.
Certainly it is not a perfect vision; nobody outside Wizards knows what the Pro Tour invitation policies will be in 2012, much less 2013. The list of invitees adheres to my opinions of what would make a good Worlds, not the opinions of Wizards with their reams of marketing data, and almost certainly not yours. Without access to the details of Organized Play’s finances, I cannot know if my “budget-neutral” ideas are really wildly expensive and impractical. A Wizards staffer may look at this vision and laugh at how blind I am.
Yet I know what I continue to see and hear from players: dismay, frustration, and even anger over Pro Tour opportunities gone and Worlds history thrown away. In the spirit of the Christmas season, “Do you see what I see? Do you hear what I hear?”
If so, send a message to Wizards and share your vision. It’s not too late.
As always, thanks for reading.
@jdbeety on Twitter