Everyman’s Pro Tour

Will people whose first PT is PTNY feel the same sense of thrill and accomplishment? I doubt it.

Normally when someone tells you they’ve dropped from a PTQ, it means they’ve had at least two losses and have decided to go home, play in a side draft, or test their latest Constructed deck instead of playing it out when they can’t make it to the elimination rounds. The team that told me they’d dropped out of Neutral Ground’s PTQ last weekend, however, was 4-0. They dropped out of the qualifying tournament in order to qualify!

Later I spoke with Dave Price, who told me his team was very lucky that they’d decided not to drop at 6-0 because they only had three sanctioned matches before this PTQ. With only nine total matches, their rating would still have been provisional (you apparently need ten matches for it to count), which they hadn’t originally realized. Instead they dropped out at 7-0 and will be playing at PTNY. That’s at least two teams who dropped out with undefeated records, and I know of several others that would have done the same thing had they managed to go undefeated through some X number of rounds.

For every Pro Tour, there are basically four ways you can qualify. You can have the magical number of PT points — currently twenty. You also qualify if you finished within the top 32 at the previous PT. You can win a slot at a PTQ or Grand Prix tournament. And finally, you can qualify on rating by being among the top 50 people worldwide who haven’t qualified through any of the other means.

Qualifying on rating makes a certain amount of sense. We want the strongest Magic players to make it to the Tour, so someone who has demonstrated their strength through consistent tournament results should go. It also means that someone who does exceptionally well in a PTQ cycle but never quite wins the slot won’t be penalized for their bad luck.

Normally, the problems are minimal. Some players may sit on their rating, but you can only do that for one PT and you have to get it up there in order to do it. If I’d finished 9th instead of 8th in Barcelona, I’d have been tempted to avoid sanctioned Limited matches in order to ensure an invite to the next Limited PT — but unless I did well there, my rating would drop sharply. We’ve had some notable instances of ratings fraud, too. But in general, I think most people would accept that most of the fifty people invited to a given Pro Tour based on rating have earned it.

With PTNY, however, Wizards has lowered the bar dramatically. While it normally takes a rating in the high 1900s to qualify for an individual PT, any team with a Team Limited rating of 1700 or higher will receive an invitation to PTNY 2001. The difference is huge and will almost assuredly mean that most of the teams at PTNY (instead of less than one in six at a regular PT) qualify on rating.

So what, you may ask? The bigger the party the better, so let everyone come. After all, it’s easy for me to say it should still be tough to get on the Tour now that I’ve just gravy-trained — but would I have felt the same back when I was first struggling to qualify?

I think so, yes. I remember my first PTQ win. It was late at night and I was facing my friend and teammate Chris Senhouse. I was playing Pox and had beaten a huge variety of decks, ranging from Recur/Survival to Jank to Counter-Sliver. I’d lost to Sligh in the Swiss, but had just gotten revenge in the top 4 against the same player, Mo Gilmore. Chris and I traded two games and I took the third, with my Wastelands turning his poor mana draw into a hopeless situation.

I was so excited that once I’d caught my breath and shook hands with Chris I just had to yell. After years of playing competitive Magic, I had finally earned the right to play with the big boys (and girls). Since then, I’ve qualified the hard way three more times before finally hitting the gravy train in Barcelona. Each time has felt amazing… A reaffirmation of my promotion from”Strong Among the Weak” to”Weak Among the Strong.”

Will people whose first PT is PTNY feel the same sense of thrill and accomplishment? I doubt it. Getting a 1700 rating isn’t necessarily easy, especially given a short season, but it’s much easier than winning a PTQ or doing well enough during a PTQ season to push your rating up into the 1900s. My team went 6-2 a couple of weekends ago. If we do it again this weekend, or maybe a bit better, we’ll once again miss the finals, but probably qualify. We’ll take it, but it won’t feel like we’ve earned it. And what about those who actually win the PTQ? Two weeks ago in New York, team Deadguy dropped at 7-0, meaning that the team with the strongest performance (every other team had at least one loss at that point with only one round left to go) wasn’t even in the final draft. Since at least one of the teams that was in the draft must have hit the magical 1700, if not both, the draft itself probably didn’t happen, either. Can you picture two teams negotiating a final split?

“Okay, here’s our final offer: you get 49% of the prize and the invitation and we get 51% of the prize. No? Darn.”

Every serious tennis player may dream of playing Wimbledon, but making it much easier to qualify for Wimbledon wouldn’t improve competitive tennis. Nor will PTNY be a good thing for most competitive Magic players. For top players, it will be something of a joke PT. For many of those who make it as their first PT, they will still, I suspect, recognize that they have yet to prove themselves”Weak Among the Strong.”

I hope I’m wrong. Playing on the Tour is an amazing experience, and if PTNY really brings it to the 500+ people that are likely to qualify for it, great. But I hope WotC will watch carefully to see the results. Lowering the bar may let more people win the prize… But it cheapens the prize, too.

Hugs ’til next time,

Chad Ellis