There were some announcements this weekend during Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad.
I’ve learned to fear change.
Let’s see what we got here. The list of the cities for upcoming Pro Tours.
Dublin, Ireland. Nice, that’s perfect for the McLaren Clan. Potatoes, yum, etc.
Tenesnese. Te-nen-ne-ne-see. Ten-a-see. Whatever.
Ooh, Japan, that’s fun.
Albuquerque, New Mexico. Okay, sure. Breaking Bad reference.
Nice for the WMCQ again. Okay, nice.
Not too shabby on that front. What’s this? An adjustment to the Pro Player levels and the Hall of Fame? Surely an upgrade… right?
Hall of Famers will only receive an appearance fee of $1,500 for competing at the Pro Tour that features the Hall of Fame induction ceremony (previously $1,500 at all Pro Tours and the World Magic Cup).
The adjustments to the Platinum pro player appearance fees, effective after the conclusion of Pro Tour Eldritch Moon, are as follows: Platinum pros will receive an appearance fee of $250 for competing at Pro Tours (previously $3,000), an appearance fee of $250 for competing at the World Magic Cup (previously $1,000), and an appearance fee of $250 for competing at a World Magic Cup Qualifier (previously $500).
Not $2500? Two Five Zero? 2. 5. 0? Two Fiddy.
You’re going to be hearing a lot about this topic. It’s an important one to many people. Here’s my take.
Well, needless to say, pretty much everyone is up in arms about these changes, since on the surface they look like a significant reduction in pay for Platinum pro players. The explanation for them was not very reassuring and downright confusing.
These decisions were not made lightly, and were finalized only after much discussion about the goals of the Pro Tour Players Club. The appearance fees we awarded for Platinum pros were meant to assist in maintaining the professional Magic player’s lifestyle; upon scrupulous evaluation, we believe that the program is not succeeding at this goal, and have made the decision to decrease appearance fees.
The program meant to assist Magic Pros’ lifestyle wasn’t working, so we decided to lower the amount of money being given to them. That is not how you make something work. Usually, when something isn’t working, you attempt to fix it. Not cripple it.
It sounds like Platinum, and possibly the rest of the Pro Player program, are in the first phase of being abandoned. Not being transparent about the reasons for such a change is a major red flag.
But there was another announcement. The money previously given to Hall of Fame members and Platinum players is going to be funneled into the World Championship prize pool. This potentially softens the blow a good deal, since many Platinum players qualify for Worlds and would therefore end up getting that money anyway. Payouts would just be much, much more top-heavy and slanted towards those who qualify for, and do well at, Worlds. This presents a lot of issues on its own, but first let’s see how much of the money is actually going to Worlds.
Difference Between Old Platinum and New Platinum
For what’s being changed, Old Platinum payouts were:
$12,000 total for attending four Pro Tours.
$1500 total for attending three World Magic Cup Qualifiers.
$1000 if you attend the World Magic Cup.
And the New Platinum gets:
$1000 total for four Pro Tours.
$750 for three WMCQs.
$250 if you attend the WMC.
Let’s just ignore the WMC appearance fee, since it doesn’t apply to everyone, and call it $11,750 lost for Platinum players.
There are approximately 35 Platinum pros right now, but the threshold to reach Platinum increased, so we can conservatively estimate 25 Platinum pros as a low number and 35 Platinum pros as a high.
$11,750 X 25 Platinum pros = $293,750 removed.
$11,750 X 35 Platinum pros = $411,250 removed.
And Hall of Fame members are going to be missing out on $4500 a year each if they were planning on attending every Pro Tour. Making it into the HoF (or already being a part of it) is certainly a major incentive for Pro Players, and making it less appealing definitely hurts even those who aren’t in it. Right now there are about 40 HoF members, but let’s estimate only twenty will show up to Pro Tours.
$4500 X 20 HoF members = $90,000 removed.
All told, there’s going to be about 400,000$ – 500,000$ taken out of appearance fees for top-level Magic players.
But there’s money being added to the World Championship. Does it actually make up for the money taken away?
The current setup for the World Championship is a prize purse of $150,000, and once the changes take effect, it will feature a prize pool of $500,000.
So $350,000 added, or a net loss of about $50,000 to $150,000. Not exactly earth-shattering, but certainly a downward trend is disappointing. If one were to attempt to frame these changes as a positive, I think this number would have to add money not take it away. But it’s worse than that.
What about the players who make Platinum but fall short of Worlds?
There is very little difference between making Gold and New Platinum, and therefore little incentive to strive beyond Gold unless you’re shooting for the World Championship.
Grinding for Platinum usually takes much more work and dedication than getting to Gold, and now the payoff is nowhere near worth it.
There are now effectively three Pro Player levels.
1. Silver (Stepping stone to Gold.)
2. Gold + Platinum (Negligible difference in payout, but access to all Pro Tours.)
3. The World Championship (Actually getting a little something-something money-wise.)
Only the World Championship level can realistically support a player who isn’t earning income by other means. The Silver and Gold levels can still open up opportunities (like article writing, streaming, etc.) but you’ll almost certainly need another consistent source of income. Still, this isn’t that big a change in terms of total dollars.
There are some other major problems with the announcement.
Breach of Trust
Take time to think through your decisions, Wizards! Did you really not expect a massive backlash? Or is it just that necessary to make these changes? This is similar to what happened with double-faced cards causing issues while being drafted on rectangular tables, so all the cards got sleeved. You don’t make that change two days before the Pro Tour unless there is an incredibly strong reason to do so. It alters what was expected with little time to prepare.
The changes to Platinum benefits go into effect almost immediately, right after the next Pro Tour. Players worked hard this year to attain Platinum for next year, and now that isn’t worth what they thought it was. You announce major changes like these a year in advance and give players time to decide if they want to continue pursing Platinum, or push even harder to try and make Worlds. This is a major slap in the face, and downright depressing, to any player who gets Platinum but doesn’t make Worlds this year.
This is the most egregious violation and should be reversed, or at least heavily altered, immediately.
As you all know first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anyone wanna see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired. Get the picture?
– Glengarry Glen Ross
Why did they make everything so drastic instead of balancing payouts? To make one tournament more dramatic and exciting?
Having prepared for two World Championships, I can say that the stress preparing for such high payouts is a major factor. Putting so much importance on one tournament, with less of a fallback if you have a bad tournament, would compound that pressure in a major way. Important high-pressure tournaments are a good thing, but they shouldn’t be the only thing.
Poor Announcement Time
The Pro Tour was completely overshadowed by this announcement (I guess the Shadows over Innistrad were Organized Play changes). Anybody want to talk about Steve Rubin crushing the Pro Tour with G/W Tokens (the same great archetype that I played, by the way), how their Pro Tour went, or the fantastic documentary Enter the Battlefield? Too busy with this fiasco.
The Red Queen’s Race
“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.”
– Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
The Red Queen’s Race, as I interpret it related to Magic, is the idea that, when you’re in competition with a similarly matched opponent, you have to push as hard you can just to keep up with everyone else who is also trying as hard as they can, or you’ll fall behind. This can lead to frustration; no matter how hard you try to get an advantage, no matter how many hours you put into it or events you travel to, it seems like you’re never getting anything out of it, since the only way to succeed is by getting ahead of the competition, and the competition is working just as hard as you are.
This is the same type of situation that happened between Pascal Maynard and Alexander Hayne competing for the Worlds slot based on GP points. They both had to travel to every GP to keep up with the other. Don’t like it? Then take a nap and let someone else take your place. Or find a new race to run.
Achieving Platinum was a clear goal: if you earn a certain amount of points, then you’re Platinum. No one can take that away by earning more points than you did. To qualify for Worlds based on points, you need to beat other players. Your success isn’t just contingent on how well you do, but also how well others do. Now you are more directly in competition with other players.
Now, this is the essence of competition, and part of what makes Magic and the Pro Tour great, but these new changes take it too far. Moderation is the key. There is less of a safety net for players hunting for Worlds.
Does it matter how the rats in the maze feel as long as the crowd enjoys watching them scurry? If the rats give up, just get some new rats.
Instead of fighting for a specific, attainable goal that you have a decent amount of control over, the big piece of cheese can only be earned by passing other players.
Who is willing to push themselves harder? Who will overcome the odds and make it to Worlds? Who will be left in the ditch bloodied and defeated at the end of it all?
It might make for an exciting narrative, but it’s going to be very hard on the losers. That type of variance is not something everyone will enjoy pursuing. You’re forced to grind like crazy, not to beat everyone else, but just to stay in the game. This isn’t a way to make a stable living.
Again, high-stakes competition isn’t a bad thing; it just seems like now there is less room for those not at the very top.
The Future Is Uncertain
What type of behavior would the new rules encourage Pro players to exhibit?
First of all, you might lose some players. Some Pros might find greener pastures to dedicate themselves to. As for the rest?
More extremes. Either you make Gold and call it a season, or go all-out traveling to many Grand Prix in an attempt to make it to Worlds. It would also encourage those who can afford to take risks, players who aren’t supporting a family or relying on a steady paycheck, to try to make it to Worlds. It also benefits players in close proximity to the most GP’s.
I love Magic. I love competing at the highest level.
I think these changes will hurt those with aspirations and hurt the game as a whole. Even though these changes might directly effect a handful of people, they shake the foundation of what it means to be a professional Magic player.
Hopefully they revoke these changes, or work to fix them in some way, but even if they do, I think they caused a good bit of damage by showing that this course of action is one they’d be willing to take if they could get away with it.
Instability over stability. Stress on players. Wizards should be working to make things easier on players, not harder, and give them more, not less. They managed to make travel way less appealing for the vast majority of players and way more necessary for those looking for Worlds slots.
It wasn’t that long ago that I was aspiring to become a Magic pro. That dream, seeing that it was something special, urged me to play Magic and get better for a long time.
I’ve already canceled a flight to a Grand Prix because I’m locked for Gold and earning a slightly better shot at making Platinum is not very appealing anymore.
I don’t want to point fingers, or cry bloody murder, but just state my opinions. If you lay out less honey, you’re gonna attract fewer flies. Intelligent players might move elsewhere. Aspiring players might look elsewhere.
To end my thoughts on a positive note, accepting that all things are ultimately fleeting is important. Magic has been very kind to me and I expect it will continue to be for years to come. I certainly don’t think these changes will kill professional Magic if they go through; maybe they’ll just dent it a little. Hopefully things go back to the way they were, and this is a wake-up call for everyone involved and more money can be injected into the top levels of the game to start improving it the right way.
At the very least, the game is always providing us some new drama to get worked up about. Might as well enjoy the ride, whatever it brings, since at the end of the day, that’s what really matters.
Platinum appearance fees will remain unchanged for the 2016-2017 season. This means that any Pro player who earns or has already earned Platinum status during the 2015-2016 season will receive all applicable appearance fees during the 2016-2017 season.
The increase to the World Championship prize pool will remain for 2016. That means the total prize pool will increase to $250,000 USD as announced, and the prize payout for the 24 players who qualify will be as follows:
We did it, Magic Community!
Once again, Wizards makes a poor decision and hastily reverses it. Not exactly a fun trend to keep reliving, but it could be worse. The best thing coming out of it all is seeing the heartwarming response from the community coming together, looking out for the interests of players and the game, showing solidarity, writing articles, tweeting things including #paythepros, and basically stopping this unfortunate mess before it got off the ground.
Our goal was to make the World Championship more exciting and to increase the visibility of professional Magic.
Put more money into professional Magic. It’s that simple.
Between now and Pro Tour Eldritch Moon in August, we will reassess plans for improving the Pro Tour and premier play. In doing so, we will consult with members of the professional Magic community and take their further feedback into consideration.
Compliments to Wizards for doing the right thing and doing it quickly, even it was brought on by some significant prompting. In retrospect, it’s actually going to be nice for those qualified for Worlds this year, since the payout is $100,000 more than it was last year, so that’s actually a fairly nice upside to come out of all this.
Forgive, but don’t forget. Actions speak louder than words, and this is just one step in the right direction after two steps back.