How To Improve Magic Coverage: Part Three

In this installment of his four-part series on how to improve Magic coverage, John Butler discusses his suggested changes to Organized Play and the Pro Tour.

In case you missed it, you can find Part One here and Part Two here.

In Part Three, we are going to discuss my proposed, actual changes to OP and the Tour. Note that none of these suggestions has anything to do with the actual tournaments and the way they are run, nor do any of these suggestions require a single additional dollar to be spent by WotC to implement. Recall from Part Two that we are shifting three perspectives: building our tour for casual fan interest, covering the tour not the tournament, and putting only our best work up on our main Twitch channel. I won’t rehash these ideas, so keep in mind these ideas form the backdrop for these changes.

We’ve all heard the fable. A woman accidentally swallows a fly. To kill the fly, she swallows a spider. Then she swallows a bird to catch the spider, then a cat to catch the bird, and so on and so forth. This is currently how WotC is running their Organized Play system. They are taking certain, fundamental flaws as givens (for example, that Pro Points reset every year) and then adopting increasingly bizarre fixes (like limiting the results to the top five GPs) in order to paper over the fundamental flaws in the system.

I do not think much needs to change to modernize the Magic Pro Tour in line with the way other, more successful niche sport tours handle their business. A few, critical changes will bring MTG OP into the modern era and put the focus on fans. Most of these tours share many concepts with the Magic Pro Tour: virtually all have some version of Pro Points, virtually all have their versions of Pro Tours (major events) and GPs (minor weekly events). We are not going to reinvent the wheel or be geniuses here: we are simply going to adopt what has already worked in other arenas that, for some reason, has never been adopted by Magic.

Please note that this would have been much easier—and much different—if I had allowed myself to spend (or, perhaps more accurately, re-allocate) any money over and above the current WotC budget. These recommendations will, in my opinion, create a much more compelling Pro Tour system for fans with the least amount of disruption to the current system at no additional expenditure. Please note also that I know nothing about running Magic tournaments, so none of this is geared at fixing player problems like capping GPs, and is simply changes that will make the tour more compelling to fans with as little impact as possible on current players (I think it improves it for players, if marginally) and no impact on WotC’s budget. The goal is this:

Change the OP system to be the best it can be for casual viewership while both (1) maintaining the current revenue levels of OP for Wizards and (2) preserving as much of the existing structure as we possibly can.

In other words, to borrow from computer software, the guts, gears and day-to-day of OP is fine. We are going to build a fan-friendly skin.

My Change #1: Pro Points

Why do Pro Points need to change?

As Organized Play is set up right now, it is pretty much impossible to tell who the “best” players in the world are by any reasonable metric. We attempt to do that right now through the accumulation of Pro Points. Actually, this does a reasonable job of approximating who the best players in the world are but only in the last month or so of the season. The system needs four-to-seven months to “catch up” every year because the points reset. As a result, you get roughly 30-45 players per year who hold the “best in the world” title at any given time, as measured by Pro Points.

It wouldn’t be all that bad if WotC had some other way to tell us who is actually the best, but instead we have to settle for ambiguous, non-quantified discussions where we have to argue who may or may not be the best. That isn’t good enough for viewers. Imagine if college sports didn’t actually have ranks—they just ran the teams into each other without numbers next to their names all year. That would be much less compelling to viewers. Right now, there is simply no way to accurately tell your fans who the best players in the world are. As a result of this, nobody actually knows who the best players in the world are at any given time. This is a huge handicap to your coverage team, as they can’t tell the viewers they are watching two of the top 10 best in the world players.

In addition to not being able to tell who is the best for the majority of the season because the points reset, it creates an impossible grind for current pros that resembles a hamster in a wheel. The set up and structure of the tour is flawed: by having the points reset to zero every year, you are requiring your “top pros” to constantly play and never take time off. Who is going to watch a professional competitive tour where 80% of the “best 200” players change every single season?

There is no way you can legitimately convince the viewers of the tour that there actually is80% turnover—it’s artificial because the Organized Play system resets the points. Then you get put in the position of having to put in crutches because your tour is set up wrong, like only counting the top 5 GP results. That isn’t necessary—fix the underlying problem. Putting a restriction on it like only using the top 5 GP results is like continually copying your screen to paper by hand because your printer is broken.

Don’t get better at copying—fix the dang printer.

A step like “we only count the top 5 GP results” is only necessary because you are unwilling to fix the underlying problem: your tour resets its points way too fast so that nobody can ride on past success for very long. When you find yourself having to put on artificial restrictions, it’s a sure sign your structure is flawed. Further, a single month under this system can have the best player in the world fall out of the top 1,000 (reset of points and, say, two bad GPs). It is absolutely impossible to build credibility with your audience doing this. You cannot legitimately tell your fans that the best player in the world became number 515 in the world in a single week.[1] Nobody is going to watch your tour doing that sort of stuff. Nobody is going to take you seriously when the best Magic player in the world overnight becomes out of the top 1,000 because all the points reset.

[1] I tried to figure this out, but I couldn’t for the life of me find the list of Platinum pros or world rankings on WotC’s site. I’m not saying it’s not there, just that I can’t find it. Of course, if I was in charge, the “Best Players in the World” leaderboard would be featured front and center on Daily MTG.

The Magic Pro Tour is the only professional tour I have ever seen that resets its Pro Points at an arbitrary time every so often and in such a short timeframe (in this case, twelve months). Golf, tennis, fishing, and virtually every other sport rolls its points forward in a certain way, and those that don’t only reset on a very long scale (five-plus years). Regular events last for only one year, but points earned from marquee events last for much longer. It is set up in this way to reinforce to the fans of the tour who the best players are.

In order to have people become fans of your tour, they mus t become fans of your players. Given the current system, that is 100% impossible because it is nearly impossible for a player, no matter how good, to stay on the tour for long enough to build a following. If golf ran their tour like Magic ran their tour, the #1 golfer in the world in March, 2012 would have been Johnson Wagner.

Who? Exactly.

The problem with this is that Tiger Woods would have lost his #1 spot without playing in a single tournament because he happened to not play any events in the 60 days after the points reset. Off to a slow start? Too bad. Decide not to play a tournament in the first month of the year? Poof, you have fallen out of the top 10,000 players in the world. You cannot tell your fans with a straight face that a player went from being the best in the world to totally out of contention over a one-week period because your points reset. The points for certain eventsshould carry forward into future years. By structuring your tour this way, you accomplish several goals.

First, there is continuity—the #1 player in the world stays there until someone else knocks them off, not until the calendar just resets all the Pro Points to zero. In virtually every other sport with a successful tour, “#1 in the world” is constantly marketed and talked about during broadcasts. The quest to knock off the top player is dramatic and compelling. It is much less dramatic and compelling that, like Magic, on a certain date everyone is equal again. It makes people feel like all the time they invested in watching your tour is wasted.

With a reset of Pro Points and events that do not last for variable amounts of time, you probably get a pretty good picture of the best players in the world—but only at the end of the year after they’ve had enough tournaments to rise to the top. This loses you a tremendous amount of credibility with the fans because if you ask who the best player in the world is, you will get a totally different level of credibility based on how far into the pro calendar we happen to be when you ask the question.

Imagine if people actually knew that the Pro Tour Return to Ravnica final between Watanabe and Cifka was to see if Watanabe maintained #1 in the world or if Cifka cracked the top 10. How much more compelling would that final have been if it was #1 Watanabe versus #11 Cifka instead of just Watanabe versus Cifka? You simply can’t have a ranking system like Pro Points and then completely ignore it during coverage. The reason the commentators have to ignore it during coverage is because it doesn’t work to measure the best players in the world.

Second, players do not need to go to nearly as many events because past success can be “ridden” for much longer into the future to “stay” on the train. There have been numerous complaints from current pros that you basically have to travel to every GP to achieve a certain status on the tour. WotC’s solution to that—cap the GP results at the best five of the year—is not a solution; it’s a silly workaround. The only reason something like that is needed is because there is a fundamental flaw in their setupall their events give points that last from the day of the tournament to the last day of the season. Magic is the only tour to do it this way, and this approach is flawed.

Imagine if golf conducted its tour the way Magic conducts its tour. On December 31, Tiger Woods is the number one player in the world, and then every January 1 he has to start over. Not only is this silly, not only does it send the message to your fans that there isn’t really any such thing as the “best in the world,” but it becomes incredibly frustrating and infuriating for the player—a season that merits a place in the top 5 in the world is instantly erased when a certain page of the calendar turns. No other professional tour on Earth handles their point races in this manner, and I don’t blame the pros for becoming extremely frustrated by this system mainly because there is virtually zero downside in doing it right. In almost any other tour in the world for individual sport, a player can have a really, really good season, get famous, and ride that for two or three more years. It is simply this:

Magic does not develop new stars because the points reset so fast that nobody who isn’t already Hall of Fame qualified can win reliably enough to become a “star.”

A good example of this is Josh Cho. Cho is a young, extremely personable guy who any media outlet would want as a “star.” Cho did fantastic at Pro Tour Avacyn Restored. However, directly after his points reset, and he was back to square one. After that, he had to start over, couldn’t do it again, and faded from the public eye. This is an enormous waste. Cho’s high PT finish should keep him in the conversation for Platinum every year for a few years so people can watch him develop and know how good he is. Sure, some people who do well at a PT won’t succeed over the longer term, but the current structure doesn’t allow a player enough time to become a name.

Keep in mind that your Pro Tour audience is roughly three-times the size of your GP audience; as such, PT success should be roughly three times more important than GP success. When a casual player sees Josh Cho play at Pro Tour Avacyn Restored, then turns on Pro Tour Return to Ravnica and sees him on camera, there is an instant connection that keeps them watching. When a casual player watches Cho at Pro Tour Avacyn Restored, watches someone else at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, and watches a third person at Pro Tour Gatecrash, they lose interest.

When we set out to balance the Pro Points awarded at a Pro Tour, it gets much easier when we think about certain results mattering for a longer period of time as opposed to simply points. If you don’t include time, it is extremely difficult to balance. If the gap between winner and second place is too big, you risk having your top player in the world distorted by a marginal (relatively speaking) player spiking a Pro Tour. If the gap between winner and second place is too small, you take drama out of the finals. Rather than what WotC does now—shuffle the points every year in a never-ending attempt to get it perfect—just make Pro Tour points last for a longer period of time. Including the time variable introduces a new element that gives you a much higher level of control than if you did not include that element.

When we sit down to design a tour, the optimal mix for fan excitement is to have a top 10 that is extremely volatile but a top 100 that is extremely stable—that is, you want your fans to be constantly watching the race for the top 10, but you want that race to include as many people they know as possible. It is very, very hard—but not impossible—to achieve this balance without the time variable. It is true that if we give WotC enough time, they might be able through trial and error to get legit world rankings under the way they do it now, but they’ve been at it for twenty years and aren’t close yet. To get the perfect mix—a volatile top 10 and a stable top 100—the time variable makes it much easier.

Making Pro Tour and World Championship results last for a longer period of time makes this balance relatively easy to strike as opposed to almost impossible. Players can stay in the top 100 (or 30) by riding old success, but that probably won’t be enough to be in the “best player in the world” discussion. It also will remove the requirement that people constantly grind GPs; since GP points will come off faster, they are less important to the long-term staying on the train players but very important to the players trying to become the best. In other words, by including the time variable, you allow a professional player to choose between grinding GPs to become the best in the world but still leave an option for people to stay on the train that don’t want to go to every single GP.

Note that because the points reset right now, players must decide to grind GPs before the last PT of the year—there isn’t enough time before the reset to grind after the last PT. Due to this time crunch, under the current system the challenge put to players is this: do really well at the first or second PT of the year (one-third to one-half of the PTs over seven months), or grind GPs. Instead, we are telling players: do really well at one or two GPs every 24 months (one-eighth to one-fourth of the PTs over 24 months) or grind GPs. The second is much more reasonable to expect from players.

The last problem is a subtle one but is very important. Right now, viewers don’t know if the PT they are watching is important or not until after they know who has won. Think about it for a minute: how do you know the PT you are watching is important to a future race for Platinum? Well, it only matters if someone who spikes that PT does well for the short window of time until the points reset. In other words, you only know if a PT result impacts Platinum if it’s either the first PT of the year or after you already know who won it. You can’t get viewers to watch this way. Under my system, the PT winner will have 24 months from the date of the PT until the points fall off, so every PT winner has a very long period of time to “make it” as a pro.

Right now, PT winners sometimes matter and sometimes don’t. It would be like if the NFL gave the Super Bowl title to the winning team only if they weren’t a wildcard team. If they’re a wildcard team, they give the title to the guy with the best record. WotC is doing the same thing: the PT only actually matters to the overall Pro Tour picture if someone wins it who is in the running for Platinum and has enough time left in the year after the PT to grind enough points to make it before the reset. Therefore, while you watch the PT, you know in the back of your mind you have no idea if the tournament actually matters or not. This is a huge problem and it needs to be fixed.

In examining other tours, we see certain patterns we are going to emulate with Magic. Two of the biggest sports that parallel the individual nature of competition paired with variance are golf and tennis—we should borrow their systems. Both golf and tennis have their tours set up properly; as you go down the “ranks” of the pros, the percentage of pros that are “new” to the rankings drastically decreases. They accomplish this by having their points fall off one week at a time and not all at once. It is on purpose—you get the drama of top 5 races every year but the consistency of recognizing most of the names in the field. This is what you want in your “stable” of pros: the top 100 is relatively stable and the top 5 is relatively volatile. This is a result of rolling points from certain events over year-over-year, which MTG does not do.

When you look at the Magic numbers, they are very accurate but only towards the end of the season. That isn’t good enough. Nobody is going to start to follow a Magic pro only to have that pro have a single bad PT and be off the tour for years. The system is incredibly shortsighted—by not including the time variable, you remove any possibility of a stable list of players who are qualified for the Tour year-over-year-over-year and reduce it to a short-term grind-fest. Then, because people are naturally repulsed by a short-term grind fest, you have to implement changes that makes no sense (like only top 5 counting) to fix the grind-fest your underlying system creates. WotC’s OP is like a dog continually chasing its tail as fix follows problem follows fix. The simplest way to permanently fix it is to introduce the time variable—there is a reason every other tour out there runs this way.

Right now, WotC is getting exactly the opposite of the desired player movement to encourage and increase viewership. The top pros in the world are relatively stable—go look at the POY winners for the last few years, all the names are known—but the top 100 in the world is very volatile. That is, the top 10 is relatively stable but the top 40 is incredibly volatile. You want the exact opposite. You want tons of drama in your top 10 and very little in your top 30. This is how you make the matchups and tournaments exciting while still showing fans the famous players they want to see: volatility at the top of the rankings and stability through the balance. This is why you value PTs for a longer period of time—it makes grinding GPs required to be the best in the world but not required to stay on the train.

My System

Under my proposed system, we would count Pro Points for GPs for exactly one year from the date of the event and for PT points, a GP win, or points from the World Championship for exactly two years from the date of the event. Of course, we could balance further by giving certain PT points (say, outside Top 16) one year, and we would tweak it somewhat. However, the bottom line is that points would “come off” of players a week at a time—there would never be a reset to zero. The system achieves the basic desired goals for a Pro Points system. Because the points never fall off all at once but rather fall off a year from the event, we never have a period where everyone is at zero, and therefore we can always tell fans who the best player in the world is with confidence.

Also, the best player in the world never just gives up that spot and starts over—the best player in the world must be knocked offby someone else so that there is much more continuity in who is the “best” in the world. It is much more credible to tell fans that there have been six or seven “world #1s” in the last two years than to tell fans there have been roughly 104 world #1s in the last two years as under the current system (it takes about eight months for Pro Points to become stable after the reset under the current system, we get an accurate picture of best in the world for about 90 days, and then they reset again).

Further, players can “ride” results for much longer—Josh Cho’s result would have mattered until the end of 2014, not for a few months because he happened to be unfortunate enough to do well at the last PT of the current season. This removes all of the issues with timing your wins to be the “best” for Platinum (i.e., you are much better off winning the early events under the current system because it gives you the most time to plan [or give up] a run for Platinum). Again, the whole “Silver level PT invite” problem is avoided by setting up the system properly.

Further, this would from examining past results give us roughly the system we want. In order for someone to be in the conversation for Best in the World—especially if it is a tight race—they will have to travel to and grind GPs. However, players who do well in roughly one in three PTs (or about one-sixth of PTs every 24 months) will find it relatively easy to stay on the train without grinding GPs. By fixing the fundamental flaw in our system (resetting Pro Points at an arbitrary date on the calendar), we remove the need to adopt fixes that seem bizarre to casual fans (only counting the top 5 results, Silver invite silliness, etc.). As a casual fan watching the tour, these limitations don’t make any sense—they’d have to Google and read all the articles to see how these strange rules were arrived at.

You need to make your tour as easy to understand as possible as far as rules of organization because fans have very short attention spans. We are adopting a page out of the PGA Tour’s book by making a GP winner’s points last as long as Pro Tour points. While this may seem counterintuitive—winning a PT lasts as long as winning a GP—it will drastically increase the drama in the Top 8 of GPs for coverage. Since winning those tournaments on the PGA Tour means so much more than getting second place, we build drama into the finals for the people who are watching the tournament on the Twitch channel.

The key is that leaving Pro Points on someone’s name for longer depending on the tournament gives us a way to make PTs matter much more without warping the Platinum race in an individual year around spiking an early PT. It will give that person who spiked the PT a springboard to make a run at becoming a Magic pro, but it will be much less all or nothing and much more reasonable because they know they will have that springboard for at least two years. Right now, players have to make an agonizing choice on whether or not to go for Platinum after a really good run at a PT—this system makes that choice much easier.

Rather than trying to grind enough points in whatever time happens to remain between their high PT finish and the end of the artificial season, they have a real two years to try to figure it out and get enough points. Platinum would be decided at the World Championship every year(more on this later in the article), but this system would be much easier for players because they would have a very good idea whentheir points will come off. It gives us a way to make PTs more important without making them too important to the current Platinum race. By introducing a variable (time) we get much more control over the system. Without that variable (time), we have to tie ourselves into knots (the Silver/GP problem, top 5 GP results, etc.) in order to get a system that works.

Finally, you need to be able to tell people who the best in the world are at any given time. Every other individual sport/game with a committed following does this. If you aren’t going to adopt a system that can tell fans who the best in the world is at any given time with a reasonable level of accuracy, you may as well shut coverage down now because it will never get better. As an example, which is more compelling for a casual fan to see on Twitter at, say, Grand Prix Portland?

“@magicprotour On coverage now: World #1 Josh Utter-Leyton vs. World #6 Stanislav Cifka! #GPPort”


“@magicprotour On coverage now: Josh Utter-Leyton vs. Stanislav Cifka! #GPPort”

The difference in appeal to casual fans between these two tweets is night and day. For no real gain whatsoever, WotC denies itself a golden marketing opportunity. WotC must implement a points system that can accurately and credibly rank the best players in the world at any given time during the season—not just at the end. The only way to do this is to include the time variable when awarding points. Further, all coverage should reference these ranks constantly. Imagine a new player flips on coverage. That player is much more likely to stay if they see #1 Josh Utter Leyton vs. #6 Stanislav Cifka as opposed to just the names on the screen without the rankings attached.

This is the reason college sports put the ranks next to the names: if a casual fan is flipping around and sees Duke versus Wake Forest, that casual is much more likely to tune in if they see “#1 Duke vs. #4 WF” than if the teams don’t have ranks next to their names. Putting the rank there builds drama. You never turn on a golf broadcast without that little number next to the player’s name—same with tennis.

With our changes, the points never fall off all at once, so there is always a legitimate ranking for best in the world. Since the points fall off week-by-week, a player can legitimately stay “Best in the World” for an extended period of time. Right now, even if someone won every single Organized Play event of the year, they would only be Best in the World for approximately 10 1/2 months (lead time to bank their points until the points reset).

That’s insane.

As mentioned in Part Two, 78% of golfers on a random golf course could tell you that Rory McIlroy was the #1 player in the world. This is possible because the world rankings pervade coverage of every aspect of the golf tour—they know you get viewers by showcasing the best in the world. The world rankings of players are beaten into viewers of golf tournaments. How many people at a random FNM could tell you Josh Utter-Leyton is the #1 player in the world right now under the current system? There is no reason it can’t be 78%, just like golf. Having a legitimate world ranking system—with the time variable in the points—and advertising it whenever someone in the top 50 in the world is on camera will double coverage numbers.

Recall from Part Two that we are going to qualify for Platinum based on rankings head-to-head, not based on an arbitrary standard of points. Right now, though, this is impossible—because the points reset every year, staying on the Tour requires an insane grind constantly to reach an arbitrary standard. If the points for certain events lasted for a longer period of time, it would make the race every year feel much less of a grind—a player can coast on a solid PT finish for a while. By introducing the time variable to Pro Points, we give ourselves more control and we can makePTs feel much more important withoutmaking PTs feel all-or-nothing.

To be totally honest, I can’t believe people actually try to be professional Magic players under the current system—they grind and grind and grind, fighting not other people but an arbitrary “Platinum” number, they have to start over every single year, nobody watches them (again, when 10m play the game, 5,000 viewers is the same as zero), and they have no idea where they stand against other people in the game as far as world rankings with any degree of accuracy. It needs a drastic change, not a “only top 5 GPs count” Band-Aid.

Summary of My Changes

1. Pro Points are awarded using two variables, not one: the number of points and the amount of time those points last.

2. PT points, World Championship points, and GP wins will last for two years. GP points will last for one year. It is counted from the date of the event. The points never reset; they just drop off as the year goes on.

3. We advertise and maintain a credible list using this system of the best players in the world and constantly advertise to viewers on coverage when a top 50 player is on camera. WotC maintains the top 10 on their main page.

4. We make the race for the top 5 volatile and exciting but the race for the top 50 stable.

My Change #2: The World Championship

One of the biggest problems with the current Magic Pro Tour is that it has no anchor. Most tours anchor their tour schedule with an event that has both history and a large amount of importance, and it is typically the last event of the year. Right now, there is no such event. PTs have been called so many different things—and held in so many different places—that there is no sense of history. The World Championship should serve as the marquee, anchor event to WotC’s schedule. Right now, the PTs feel like the anchor, but they are a very poor anchor—they move every year, they don’t have repeating names (you never have a “defending PT Avacyn Restored Champion”), and there is relatively thin sense of history.

Yes, the PT has been going on for a while, but it has gone on under different names in different cities. There is no sense of history/continuity, at least when compared to other sporting events that have been run for twenty consecutive years. In every other sport, you see a gradual build-up to a very large event at the end that a large percentage of the interest base watches.

In football, we have the Super Bowl. In golf, we have the Tour Championship at Eastlake.

Everything in those sports builds to those huge weekends, and they are constantly talked about during the broadcasts all year. Remember from Part Two that one of the biggest weaknesses in Magic’s coverage numbers is that there is no spike at the end of the year. Virtually all competitive broadcasts spike at the end of the year when there is more at stake. Magic’s coverage numbers are relatively flat. Magic needs a Super Bowl-like event at the end of the season to wrap up the current year that they can build to on coverage all year.

The holiday time is the perfect time for WotC to mount a huge tournament culminating the entire year. Everyone is off of school / work and can watch coverage. As mentioned in Part Two, there is a reason the NBA dominates Christmas and NFL dominates Thanksgiving. Build your entire year to the World championships December 27, 28, 29. I would set a target audience goal of 500,000 sometime in the next three years, and I would require my coverage team all year at GPs and PTs to mention the World Championship every twenty minutes at least.

If you add this event at this time, the rest of your year can be totally unplanned and ad hoc; if you have one event that anchors your professional calendar, the rest of the calendar doesn’t feel helter-skelter and weird pretty much no matter what you do. Without that anchoring event, the year feels very random. Further, this would give you a perfect event to induct the current class of MTG Hall of Famers.[2] The purpose of the World Championship is to provide a showcase for the best players of the year.

[2] If I was actually a consultant to WotC, I would advise they spend a little money actually building a MTG Hall of Fame with busts of the players, etc. I would then have the World Championship every single year held in the Magic Hall of Fame. Coverage would begin every year with “Live from the Magic: The Gathering Hall of Fame, the 2014 World Championship,” and you could see the HoF exhibits behind the players in the background. This would give it an incredible sense of history.

I would invite the following to the World Championship:

The top 40 players in the world (using our new ranking system).[3]
The top money winner on the SCG circuit if not already qualified.
The four Pro Tour winners if not already qualified.
The current class of HoF inductees if not already qualified.

[3] I assume Platinum would go to the top 30 under this scenario. Whatever the Platinum number is, I would invite slightly more than that so that the players at the tournament are competing for Platinum.

Quick note: I would invite the top money winner from the SCG circuit. It is a very common approach to give small tours meaning by inviting the top player to some huge event. For example, the winners of the Asian and Latin American golf tours get invited to the Masters. This makes people watch and care about these minor tours when they otherwise wouldn’t—they want to know who is going to win the Masters invite. I would keep my door open; if ManaDeprived’s Canadian tour started getting serious play, I would add the top money winner there to the invite list. If an Asian tour got off the ground, I would add an invite to the winner of that tour. By using other smaller tours to feed two-to-four spots in your big event, you are encouraging outside tournament organizers and players to grow and organize their own tours to feed yours at no cost to you.

The event is set up for viewer drama. We are not inviting sixteen people in the middle of the year (who in the world thought that would be dramatic?) but slightly more than the number of people who will make Platinum and hold it at the end of the year. There would be feel bads—some people wouldn’t make Platinum—but this head-to-head competition would seriously drive viewers. This would be an incredibly dramatic event. Remember, only the top 30 get Platinum, and there will be about forty players at this event in the running for Platinum. The drama will be there (and so will the viewers).

The World Championship should take place December 27, 28, 29. It should always be held at WotC headquarters in Seattle (in the same place every single year). Throughout the entire year, everything builds to the World Championship. We show “Race to Worlds” graphic with a leaderboard constantlyon coverage. Daily MTG puts a “Race to the Worlds” graphic on the main page. Everythingall year would build to December 27, 28, 29 when the spots for the next yearare decided—and the advertising writes itself:

“Watch the best 40 players in the world compete for Platinum and Player of the Year head-to-head.”

That is a much, much better pitch to get viewers than “Come see sixteen guys—we can’t tell you what their ranking is because we don’t keep rankings—with relatively little on the line besides prize money in the middle of August. Don’t worry too much if you miss it, though, because there’s another six months of tournaments after this for the poorer finishing players to catch up by grinding GPs.” It’s night and day—one is a culminating, climatic battle head-to-head with no tomorrow. One is, well, not even close to that.

If WotC is not willing to make changes to the World Championship, they shouldn’t hold it. They are spending a ton of money on this tournament for very little benefit. Virtually nobody watches it because it has virtually no drama in it at all. The only drama involved in the World Championship is who will win $30k, but that simply isn’t enough money to make a casual fan care. The World Championship could be the event in the MTG year—the thing everyone talks about. Again, we have a recurring theme WotC needs to learn: a bunch of guys sitting around playing Magic—no matter how good they are—is not a good coverage event. It needs to mean something to the tour at large to matter.

Nobody watches NFL preseason games compared to the games that matter because they don’t care; elite football players are playing in the preseason, but that isn’t enough on its own to get people to tune in. You have to learn this lesson: Magic tournaments by themselves don’t matter. We must fit it into an overarching structure to give it meaning and get people to watch.

The Super Bowl matters because we know that the champion is crowned at the Super Bowl. All year builds to the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl would be a lot less important—and a lot fewer people would watch it—if one in four or five years they ignored the champion of the Super Bowl and just gave the trophy to the best team. That is essentially what the World Championship is—it’s a lot of pomp and circumstance and prize money that signifies basically nothing. Under my plan, we put it in December and invite basically only those who are close to Platinum—the top 40 in the world. They then battle it out for Platinum on camera over three days.

Magic needs an event like this to tie their year together. Every year, the top 40 in the world battle it out to see who will secure Platinum and who will secure Player of the Year head-to-head. Further, we put it at the end of the year so there is never any doubtabout what the last tournament of the season will be. We want to make surethat Platinum is decided by using a Top 8 that, for example, will almost certainly have 40% of the people in it battling for Platinum. You need a seminal event marking the end of your season that the entire rest of the season builds to at which everything is determined for the next year. This will give you the end of the season spike in viewer numbers that Magic desperately needs.

In short, the World Championship should become Magic’s Super Bowl. It should be at the end of the year, it should be in the same place every year, and it should always be the last tournament of the season. There would be stories galore—players trying to get on the train, players trying to stay on, players trying to win PoY, RoY, etc. In short, the World Championship should be the year-end, marquee, culminating event of the MTG Pro Tour year, NOT sixteen random dudes playing Magic in the middle of August for a relatively small pot of cash.

My Change #3: The World Magic Cup

The current Magic World Cup is awful. I have tried to be diplomatic throughout most of this article, but the format for the WMC makes no sense at all whatsoever. There is no way to dress it up. It doesn’t work for players—who wants to play with 300 people in an event where second gets nothing?—and it doesn’t work for viewers—who wants to watch a bunch of randoms “represent” their country when everyone knows they aren’t the real national team?

It’s impossible to understand what WotC’s goal is for the WMC; if you are trying to attract players, it is set up poorly, and if you are trying to attract viewers, it’s set up equally poorly. If they were setting up to attract players to play in the qualifiers, they should qualify more than one per tournament and have the tournaments on both coasts, etc. If they are setting it up to attract fans, you don’t gain anything by putting people nobody has ever heard of in the tournament representing their country. It seems WotC is straddling the line between trying to attract participants and attract viewer interest and pleasing absolutely nobody.

Further, it’s disingenuous. There is no way WotC can claim with a straight face that the World Magic Cup is the real World Magic Cup—the best players aren’t in the event. Imagine if the soccer World Cup featured players not selected by the coaches from the pool of available professionals but instead the soccer coaches picked from people who happened to attend a 300-person open tryout held in the country. Nobody would watch. It is not compelling as a gaming/sporting event. Not only do you purposefully implement a method that produces subpar MTG teams, but you then insult the viewer by actually telling the viewer with a straight face that this is the United States “national team.” Go back and watch the WMC in the archives—you will find that the commentators explain how the national teams are picked virtually never during the broadcast.

I don’t think the format for picking the team is appropriate, but if you are going to use an open tryout system, you must constantly explain to the viewer during the broadcast why the national teams they are watching don’t have the best players on them. Put yourself in the shoes of a casual fan who tunes in—they see the “American team” playing with names they have never heard of and nobody explains why these guys are representing the USA. I think those guys are nice guys, but to say that the team that competed in the WMC is the “US national team” is not at all accurate. You cannot give your viewer something they know isn’t true—that the team that was there was the best America, or Canada, or Brazil had to offer—and then not explain why those people are there.

This is a lesson WotC needs to learn across the board: if you are going to do something that seems counterintuitive and insane to a casual fan—like pick your national teams through a one-day Standard tournament attended by 300 people—you must constantly explain that on coverage. You want people who watch your coverage to be casual fans, and you cannot assume they know how this stuff works. Nobody would believe you would pick your national teams this way; if you’re going to do it, at least spent a ton of time on coverage explaining it. Right now, the whole thing is incredibly confusing to a casual audience.

Let’s get this out of the way now: the WMC should not at all affect the Pro Points race. There are many other sports that mimic the WMC—golf (Ryder Cup), chess, soccer—and none of them count WMC results in their Pro Points standing for that year.[4] The reason is obvious: because it is not an individual tournament. You don’t want asterisks next to your Pro Points race, and you are inviting this by counting the WMC.

[4] The exception to this is tennis, who gives out a small amount of tour points for doing well in the Davis Cup. This started in 2009, and people are trying to change it. However, tennis does give out points for their WMC event. That said, I think it is a bad idea.

One of these days someone is going to win Player of the Year by virtue of WMC points over someone who did not get to go to the WMC, and you are going to hear the grumbling and are going to get fans talking about how the PoY isn’t the “real” PoY because the other guy didn’t have the same opportunity—and they would be right to complain because the PoY race is simply not a level playing field when people get points for these types of events. No Pro Points for WMC—period.

With that out of the way, here is how I would set up the WMC to attract maximum viewership. I would give the captaincy to the player from that country that is highest in the Pro Point standings—just as it is done now. That person would then pick their team of four to play with them in the event. They would pick one teammate who would play Limited only, one teammate who would play Constructed only, and one teammate who would play both.

There would be approximately a month gap between when the captains are announced and when the picks are announced. The picks for the teams would be spoiled like cards from new sets are spoiled (imagine the excitement the morning WotC reveals the US team Kibler picked, or the Canada team Hayne picked, or the Brazilian team William Edel picked—it’s going to get the event a lot more attention than writing “random Player X you don’t know won a WMCQ[5]” buried on page 2 of DailyMTG).

[5] If you are going to keep these, at least change the name. WMCQ is a mouthful and hard to remember—its poor branding. I would suggest “National Team Qualifier” or “NTQ” because it is so close to “PTQ” which people already understand and is so much easier to say.

There would be a lot of speculation. Does a team pick a deckbuilder? Just good players? We have these discussions in golf every year. Do you pick a good putter for the events where two players play one ball? Do you just pick the best players? These reveals of teams—spoiled like cards are spoiled—would lead into the main event. I wouldn’t change the event structure at all, but I would absolutely change the way the teams are picked because right now it is pleasing nobody. We are trying to maximize our viewership numbers, and we do that by creating an interesting event.

We don’t need to reinvent the wheel here—every single other individual spot conducts their team world championship this way. The reason why is simple—the speculation surrounding who the captain will pick builds excitement for the main event. Imagine if the US team were Kibler, LSV, Ben Stark (Limited only) and Tom Martell (Constructed only). That is infinitely more compelling than what we watched this past summer. US versus Brazil should be a huge event—Edel v. Froehlich, Paulo v. Kibler—it shouldn’t be two guys who won qualifiers running decks into each other because it is hopeless to try to get anyone to watch that.

My Change #4: Create More Awards

Most spots have a laundry list of awards that are given out at the end of the year for their particular sport. The reason is to give fans focus—by having these awards, fans start to identify certain players with certain skills. End-of-the-year awards are a great way to generate low-cost drama (and generate talking points for commentators). Right now, we have Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year. That isn’t nearly enough. We should add Limited Player of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year, Team of the Year,[6] Deckbuilder of the Year, a PoY for each format, etc. Having these awards will focus the fans and will get the names of solid pros in front of the fans more often.

[6] Assuming we have enough team events to pick one.

There is no downside to creating a ton of these awards and its feel goods all around. Further, the World Championship—anchoring our tour calendar at the end of the year—is a perfect opportunity to give out these awards. I would guess we could legitimately support ten or twelve end of the year awards beyond Rookie and Player. These awards would generate speculation and would generate articles. The more drama we can give to the World Championship, the better. It’s a small point, but when you look at other tours that are successful, they all have twelve-to-eighteen end of year awards. Only having two is silly.

My Change #5: What We Talk About On Camera

I think Magic commentators get a really bad deal. They have a basically impossible job—talk with very little guidance for two days straight. They get a ton of criticism, but I think they do the best they can with what they have and some show an incredible amount of potential to be top-quality media personalities.[7] The problem with the commentators has absolutely nothing to do with identifying play lines or seeing hands or any of that; that might annoy some hardcore viewers, but at the end of the day it’s largely irrelevant to driving 100,000+ blocks of viewers.

[7] I am pretty confident that with six months of training Marshall Sutcliffe could go to virtually any media outlet in sports and fit right in with the best. He is a serious talent.

The problem with Magic commentary is that it is hyperlinear—by far the most linear broadcast I have ever seen. Basically, for a GP, the coverage will just take it game-by-game and not talk about much other than the current game they just happened to see. They do occasionally talk about broader issues, but it’s rare and not according to any sort of schedule. They will generally mention the tournament standings twice: once before the day 2 cut and once before Top 8 is decided. Other than that, if I just showed you the games video spliced together, you wouldn’t even know they were in the same tournament, let alone the same tour.

It’s almost as if they think of a sixteen-round GP as sixteen separate telecasts with breaks in between to discuss whatever they want. Sporadically throughout, the commentators may mention small things like the WMC or the World Championship, but without any real plan and not nearly enough times. The place the commentators fall apart usually is when they run out of things to say to the audience during downtimes or during times when the players are tanking on plays.

This is not an unusual problem. The best fix for this is to provide the commentators lists of topics and required time periods in which those topics must be mentioned. During many broadcasts in larger sports (golf, for instance), a commentator has a laptop screen with a list of topics and clocks that are ticking down. When the commentator mentions a particular topic, the producer resets the clock. Next time you watch a sporting event and they do one of those “remember, at 9 PM in one week on ESPN is Related Event X,” look at the clock. Next time they mention the same thing, look at the clock again—it will almost certainly be very close to fifteen, 30, or 60 minutes from the first mention.

During the US Open, the commentators mentioned ESPN’s coverage of the upcoming World Cup almost exactly once per hour. During NFL games, they mention the next game on the channel about once every 30 minutes like clockwork. This is because they have topic sheets. Whenever the commentator runs out of things to talk about, he simply looks down, sees what topics haven’t been mentioned lately, and talks about them. The guidance for what to mention and how often is given by the producer and insures that no matter who is doing the commentary the broadcast feels exactly the same.

I know I won’t convince WotC to get recurring commentators (which they desperately need), but these lists are doubly critical when your commentators rotate so that the feel of the broadcast is uniform. For example, we might come up with the following:


This is just an example, but commentators in virtually every sport are given lists like this so that they are constantly tight. Right now, Magic commentators have a hopeless job—you can’t tell someone without extensive broadcast experience to go fill two days of airtime without any guidance. This fights the linearity of the cast; you want to avoid at all costs the easy trap to fall into where you just talk about a game, go back to the heads at the desk, go back to a game, go back to the desk, etc. and never link your tournaments and topics to the world at large. Magic commentators tend to get tunnel vision when a match is on camera and do not link that match to the world at large.

This will also fix the #1 problem with Magic commentary: the rambling. The only time I think Magic commentators fall below an acceptable standard is when they have nothing to say but air to fill. You fight rambling by giving the commentators tight topic schedules. There are always going to be little commentator annoyances and certain viewers will always disagree on which commentators they like / don’t like, but the topic schedule accomplishes several goals. First, it drastically reduces the lack of uniformity in commentator quality across events since we do not have recurring commentators.

By giving topic guides, you make your broadcasts feel the same regardless of who is behind the desk. Second, it will communicate all the great changes we are making to coverage to the viewer. Third, it will make sure that any viewer who watches for any length of time leaves knowing exactly how the pro system works and when the next broadcast is. If you go look at the archives, you can see stretches of time during coverage where the commentators go hours and hours without mentioning next week’s GP.

Can you think of any other coverage where this happens?

Think about during an NFL game—there are constant reminders of who is playing next in the doubleheader, who is playing next week, where teams stand in the playoff race, etc. This isn’t by accident—they have topics they are required to discuss every so many minutes. By implementing this policy at WotC coverage, you kill two birds with one stone: you cut way down on the dead air/rambling and get to communicate to the viewer how your tour works and when they can tune back in to watch in the future.

Don’t reinvent the wheel—other broadcasts use commentator guidance for a reason—just copy it. You need to give your broadcasters these topic-per-minute (and graphic-per-minute) guidelines so that everyone who watches your tour for a half-hour leaves knowing your structure, your schedule, and when your upcoming events come on. Coverage today is the best marketing device for coverage tomorrow—use it. You need more structure and uniformity in the topics the commentators discuss.

My Change #6: Your Definition of Success

WotC must change their definition of success. I have no idea what their criteria is now for a “successful” pro-level event, but the definition must include viewership or nothing else matters. While some might think it is ridiculous, looking at other games on the same interest level of MTG (~10m players), I think 500,000 viewers for a year-end World Championship is actually lowballing the potential audience if this is done right.

However, WotC must stop thinking “this event was a success because it ran well, plenty of room, A/C, and pairings went up on time” and start thinking “this event was a failure because nobody watched it.” WotC needs to realize that a World Championship that is watched by 10,000 people out of 10,000,000 is basically being watched by zero people—if 10,000 viewers is where you are happy to be, don’t bother covering it.

Once this shift happens, they can pick and choose from my other recommendations, but until WotC starts evaluating their coverage and OP teams based on what Magic should be doing (500,000 marquee event viewers) and stops evaluating their coverage and OP teams based on what Magic has done in the past,none of these changes will matter. WotC needs to make the internal decision that attracting 10,000 viewers to the biggest tournament of the year where they are paying $50,000 in prize money is simply not even in the realm of close to good enough.