How To Run A Type One Tournament

What I’m going to do in this article is canvass the rules for running a Type One tournament: what you should do, what you must do, and what you should avoid. In the process, I’m going to argue for what may seem to be a pretty radical position in terms of how to run one. I haven’t spent time on these subjects before because they are bristling with controversy…

Over the last two years, Type One has seen tremendous growth in popularity and tournament attendance. In the last few months alone, I have been witness to something even more unimaginable: more Type One tournaments than I have free time to attend – and not local yokel tournaments – real power tournaments are popping up with increasing frequency. The Northeast is putting up regular Type One tournaments that are reaching into the 200+ level of attendance on a bi-monthly basis at this point.

A scan of the Mana Drain or Morphling.de may inspire wonder at how so many tournaments are being run, or jealousy and a desire to start up one for oneself. These are healthy thoughts.

What I’m going to do in this article is canvass the rules for running a Type One tournament: what you should do, what you must do, and what you should avoid. In the process, I’m going to argue for what may seem to be a pretty radical position in terms of how to run one. I haven’t spent time on these subjects before because they are bristling with controversy. Nonetheless, experience is on my side. I will use the experience I’ve had along with some reasoning, to persuade you that I’m right.

The first thing that must be kept in mind is that the interest of the tournament organizer overlaps/coincides with the interest of the players: good turnout on a consistent basis. The one thing Type One players want more than one good tournament, is multiple good tournaments. This means the ability to metagame over time. A high turnout means a higher rate of return for the host dealer. A high turnout means that the tournament will likely be sustainable on a regular basis, and that the prize structure can increase. I will discard many of the stubborn notions that people cling to by referencing this point.

Rule #1: The Goal of the Tournament Organizer and Tournament Players is to get a good turnout.

There are several ways this can be accomplished. The first step to getting a good turnout is to put up a good prize. More on that later.

The most important and crucial point that people need to realize has to do with how to create the conditions for tournament growth. There are many types of players who enjoy Magic – often ranging from casual to competitive and everything else in between. A tournament organizer should not make the mistake that a tournament is aimed at all Magic players. Many of the more casual players won’t even show up to pre-releases. A tournament organizer is putting on a tournament. Tournament Magic is the logical opposite of casual Magic. This means that you do not have to cater to casual players when organizing a tournament. This is not to say that casual players may not want to play, or that they won’t enjoy the occasional tournament – especially Type One – but they are not the target crowd for sustaining the conditions of a healthy Type One environment.

Rule # 2: Encourage a Competitive Metagame

The only way you can get a continuing, sustainable tournament is if you create the conditions for a competitive metagame. Many (perhaps most) of the Type One tournaments currently run across the United States are small, mostly local, heavily-unpowered metagames where fifteen to thirty players duke it out on a weekly basis. As a basis for Type One growth and in furtherance of the goal of enjoying Type One, the format – this is the poster child for how not to run a Type One tournament. If you encourage a quasi-casual tournament (a contradiction in terms), then anyone who shows up with a tier one deck will obliterate the metagame, and obliterate the desire to hold tournaments. For example, if the store has a regular showing of twelve to twenty players who play mostly casual aggro decks, perhaps some decks with Mana Drains and Force of Wills, and someone goes in with Draw7 or Stax, they will tear the room apart, and people will suddenly decide this was not for them. The few stragglers who remain are unlikely to be motivated to build better decks and the tournament numbers will dwindle until something else is held.

But if you encourage a competitive environment, with a somewhat predictable metagame, then people will innovate, test, and plan a way to beat that metagame. In that way, people will invest in the tournament and create a stable player base.

If you encourage a competitive metagame, you need to take account for the type of person who a) you will want to attract, and b) you will be likely to attract. These are not going to be the Yu-gi-oh! Players. These are generally going to be people of upper High School age or older, and ideally, adults. These people have lives. They have wives, girlfriends, and jobs/school. [Well, some of those anyway. – Knut, not letting Steve get carried away] To lure these people out, you need to give away a good prize. You also need to make sure that you give away something that will draw people from the surrounding area – including from a few hours away. For these reasons, there are two more rules:

Rule #3: If you have a smaller group, don’t hold the tournament more than every three weeks.

Rule # 4: Don’t Give Away Anything Less than a Piece of Power

People who have as busy lives as I described won’t be able to make it to a weekly tournament. If they can’t make most of the tournaments, they will come to feel out of the loop. Also, if you want people to drive from the surrounding area, then you need to spread out the tournies. If you have a very large crew, then you only need a small proportion to come to support weekly tournaments. But there are good reasons for believing that weekly tournaments are not the way to go.

The most successful Type One tournaments that I have been witness to are the Dulmen and Carta Magic in Montreal, which are held on a monthly basis, the big Northeast Tournaments which are generally quarterly or bi-monthly, and Origins/Gencon, which are annual. Tournaments which are held on a weekly basis or more can start out strong, but they ultimately fail in the long run. Witness Neutral Ground in NYC. They had weekly Type One tournaments, but over time they have dwindled to nothing. C&J’s in California certainly had a really strong Type One start – but I haven’t heard much from them in a while. The problem with having weekly tournaments with a very weak prize structure is that you suck the energy out of the larger tournaments that you might want to hold in conjunction. If you have a tournament on a monthly basis or so, then it becomes easier to justify it to a wife, girlfriend, or buddies to spend the time to go. Also, the longer the time between the tournaments, the more likely that memory of stinging defeat will fade and you will be much more likely to plunk down that $15.

Which brings me to the third rule. These people with family, jobs, and lives will be hesitant to commit even on a monthly basis – but even if they will – it helps to lure these people from far away, and give them something to brag about or justify their time – you need to put up a piece of power.

We have been very successful in Columbus doing just that. If you put up a Mox, you only need sixteen to seventeen people to break even at $15 entry fee. Anything beyond that can go into a weak second place prize and door prizes, and then into profit. Type One players don’t want boxes or packs. (Though I like packs to draft with). But Moxen are great. First, they encourage people to come out who don’t have power, because then they can win it. Second, Moxen are highly liquid. Which brings me to another sub-rule: in addition to the Mox, offer an Alternative first place price of cash. This has several benefits. First, it allows people to not want have to sell a Mox they don’t want – and then as the dealer, you will often make another fifty dollars or so out of the deal. Second, it offers the players in the finals an opportunity to easily prize split. This is an extra incentive, which means that the dealer is likely to make more money, once again, and you still have the Mox for next month.

The corollary to encouraging a competitive metagame is providing the space within which a competitive metagame can play out. This leads to my next rule:

Rule # 5: You must allow Proxies – at least ten.

Players will be much more likely to plunk down $15 if they think they have a shot at winning – which means, in a competitive metagame, being able to compete with people who actually own all the moxen.

Most people have an instinctive reaction to the issue of proxies that probably does not reflect thoughtful contemplation about the reasons for and the range of possibilities with proxies. One of the more common reactions to proxies is: why? If you’ve read this far, then the why should be obvious. If you still are opposed to proxies in running your own Type One tournaments, then the reasons I have presented so far – the interest in a competitive and growing Type One scene are outweighed by some principle that you hold.

One of the more common reactions is that appeal to sanctioned tournaments. There are two compelling reasons to hold sanctioned tournaments. The first is the rules enforcement: people who run them have to have passed a judges test or at least certified organizers, and misconduct can be punished by the DCI by suspending or banning from sanctioned tournament play. The second argument is that sanctioned tournaments affect rating. Attacking the second argument first, rating in Type One is what a star in Kindergarten is: a vague accolade for something you might or might not have done, which is generally meaningless. Vintage rating qualifies you for nothing. You don’t get byes even for the Vintage championship. Even if you did, its value would be very minimal.

Second, vintage ratings are heavily distorted by the fact that many of the top rated Vintage players haven’t played Magic in half a decade. Perhaps what is even worse, people in isolated, unpowered, pocket metagames are able, after several years, to accumulate a very high Vintage ranking without having to play in a single competitive Type One tournament. As for the Rules Enforcement Level, if you hire a competent judge familiar with Type One and have a list of the oracle text and errata, you’re already better off than most sanctioned Type One judges.

The other arguments are harder to dispense with, but they are generally less objectively compelling. The first is that people who own power have worked hard and spend good money to acquire them – why shouldn’t everyone else? The second argument is that allowing proxies does away with the incentive to buy, retain, or even a desire to win power. The idea of the first argument is that it is unfair that one person has made a huge investment over time with no benefit of proxies. The operating assumption is that one should have the right to take advantage of their monetary advantage. This assumption is particularly odious in Type One because, unlike the person who owns a player set of random hot rare in Standard, the competitive advantage of owning power over someone who doesn’t is simply enormous. In other words, the assumption, explicitly stated, is that you earned wins because you bought the cards, and the opponent’s decision not to buy those cards means they deserved to lose.

Such a proposition is nothing but a dead end for this format. It should be readily apparent that if Type One is to grow and thrive, particularly in a local Type One tournament, proxies are a necessary requirement to maintain competitive balance. At the same time, it is a tremendous incentive for people to plunk down the $15 entry fee when they otherwise wouldn’t. Most enlightened, competitive Type One players who own full power and who care about Type One readily endorse the use of proxies. If they care about Type One, they will realize that growth for the format – including more tournament opportunities and discussion of decks and technology, can only be aided through the use of proxies.

This leads into the final argument against proxies: that it removes the incentive to buy power. I can’t refuse this argument as easily as the other three – but I can certainly suggest that it might be misplaced. It is certainly true that an increase in the use of proxies will cause a decrease in demand for power. However, I would counter that that decrease is countered and overcome by two subsequent demand shifts. First, the increasing popularity of the format means that more people have experience and interest in the format, and will therefore want to acquire the power for themselves so as to compete in sanctioned events such as Origins and the Type One Championship at Gencon. Second, people are far more likely to invest in an expensive Mox if they are familiar with decks that they have played for weeks in their local tournaments. Having played with a Mox proxy for months makes one far more likely not only to appreciate and want a Mox, but to enjoy it as well.

If I have sold you that proxies are important, and even necessary – you might be wondering, what’s the best way to implement them?

To canvass the options briefly: The first is to allow no proxies. This is a mistake through and through and there is no excuse for it. The result will be a totally uninteresting metagame dominated by people with power. The next best solution is to use only five proxies. I believe that this option, while acceptable, is highly distorting and tends to eliminate Mishra’s Workshop and Combo decks from the environment compared to what might otherwise occur. This is because Workshop and Combo decks are already fully powered (and run power-priced cards in addition). Ten Proxies is a much better solution, because it maintains the necessity to own some of the key pieces of archetypes if you want to play decks with Drains, Workshops, Bazaars, or Masks. The difference between five and ten proxies is $1000.

Perhaps the most principled and least arbitrary number for Proxies is thirteen. This is the power nine plus four for any of the $100+ cards like Masks, Bazaars of Baghdad, or Mishra’s Workshops.

If you are less concerned about issues like disincentives to buy power – and you care more about a competitive Type One metagame, then there are two options I think you will find most compelling. The first is to allow proxies for any card from Legends or earlier – a set cut-off. The difference in price between Legends-cut off and ten Proxies is about $300 – as much as a Ravager Affinity deck. The result will be to not require ownership of the scarce and expensive key ingredients to many of the Type One decks. This option is probably the best solution for an environment that has a lot of Type One experience, and will therefore have access to a number of staple Type One cards that aren’t big money items, such as Goblin Welder, Academy Rector, Yawgmoth’s Will, etc. If you are trying to grow Type One in a completely new area – perhaps bringing Type One in for the first time, I think the only real option is unlimited proxies. Unlimited proxies permits the most competitive environment for those of you who are die-hards.

I highly recommend that any tournament organizer has oracle text of cards. The argument that proxies are bad because you can’t tell what the card does should read Illusionary Mask and then read the oracle text.

Whichever option you pursue, the success of your tournament and growth of Type One should be always in mind. Tournament organizers who ban proxies and sanctioned, yet are struggling to increase numbers or seek a better tournament might want to let old habits die hard and realize that Type One is most enjoyable when people care.