PTQs Are Dead–Long Live PTQs

Jim Davis sounds off on the newest big change in Organized Play. While Jim acknowledges the potential good, there are always a few negatives that might have been overlooked…

“Hey Johnny, where are you going this weekend?”

“Oh hey Mom, I’m going to the big Magic Pro Tour Qualifier in South Jersey!”

“But John, didn’t you win the qualifier down at Durdling Doofuses Comics and Cards last month?”

“Well… no… that was just a qualifier for the actual qualifier.”

“Hmm… so you have to win again to qualify?”

“No, I just have to make Top 8”

“… What’s that mean exactly?”

“… What’s that mean exactly?”

“I have to finish anywhere from first to eighth, it doesn’t really matter where.”

“Oh… well good luck I guess. Are you going with the usual crew?”

“Nah… Billy and Timmy didn’t qualify. I’m making the drive alone.”

“I see. Well please call me when you get there so I know you got in all right, and good luck! I hope you win… I mean, finish well!”

* * * * * *

Magic has grown by leaps and bounds in the last few years, and while it is awesome the game is getting bigger and more popular than ever, it certainly is
creating a unique set of (admittedly good to have) problems: older cards are becoming increasingly more expensive due to increased demand, and tournament
attendance has gotten to a point that is difficult to manage properly.

To solve the first problem, Wizards has been trying to use promo cards and sets like Modern Masters to help bring relief to the marketplace. This has
worked to an extent, but card prices are still very high.

For tournaments, Wizards has just announced a major change to the Pro Tour
Qualifier system that has remained largely the same for what seems like forever.

PTQs as we know them, large tournaments that offer an invite and flight to the winner, now no longer exist.

Smaller, local level Regional Pro Tour Qualifier Qualifiers will now be held at the local store level, where the winner will win a qualification to a large
regional PTQ that will award slots to the top 4 or 8 players (depending on size). There will be a large amount of these PTQQs all over the regional area,
and it is assumed each will be between 40-80 players. The formats of these events will also not be seasonal but rather at the discretion of the TO- either
Standard, Modern, or Sealed.

The goal of this is to try and help control the size of the Pro Tour, as well as reducing the number of players in the PTQs themselves. Some PTQs in Europe
and major metropolitan areas on the east and west coasts of the US have been occasionally getting over 400 players for their events, making them very
difficult to run and manage properly.

On the surface this system does seem like it will accomplish these goals. The size of the Pro Tour will be easier to control, and lots of events can still
be held without giving out too many invites. PTQQs will also likely be smaller (although it’s hard to know for sure), and the size of the actual regional
PTQ will be known as well.

This system certainly seems like it would be more appealing to more local players, who play more in their home store than travel. They can play the same
Standard, Modern, and Sealed events they are used to in the comforting and familiar surroundings of their home store, with a major added bonus. They also
can avoid having to travel, or the daunting task of trying to win a 400-person tournament. It brings more traffic to local stores and helps build them on a
grassroots level.

However, as we could see from the Planeswalker Points debacle, encouraging grinding is not always a good thing. Having to grind a bunch of events just to
qualify for another event you also have to do well at is also daunting. While there is definitely a subset of the Magic playing population that is either
in school, college, or unemployed that has a large amount of time to devote to grinding Magic, this becomes very difficult as one gets older, and has a job
and family competing for their time. Perhaps this is the audience that Wizards wants to cater to, but this sort of “Grinder” lifestyle is certainly not
sustainable. Even the biggest grinders have to quit the grind eventually, and excluding those players when they do doesn’t seem like a fantastic business

This lack of flexibility makes things difficult for people with more than Magic on their plate. What if someone can’t get off work the weekend of the only
Regional PTQ in the area? Or they have some other important event like a wedding or something to attend? They are completely cut off from qualifying via a
qualifier that season, and have no reason to play in the PTQQs. Anyone with a busy schedule can no longer just take off a random Saturday for a chance to
qualify- they must be more fully invested.

Maybe this is what Wizards wants, a PT full of super dedicated grinders, not necessarily busy but talent players who are capable of taking down an event.

This also raises perhaps the biggest problem with this entire system:

You can’t spike.

In the older format, winning a PTQ was awesome. The reality was that anyone could just show up, play well/run hot, and take it down, and that is extremely
appealing. There were no hoops to jump through, no prior obligations; show up, pay your $30, and you are live for a ticket to the big show.

After four years of playing in Pro Tours, grinding PTQs, and coming a few pro points short of training each season, I’ve shifted my personal focus to Open
Series events due to their more instant gratification. However, over the last few years, my friends have talked me into playing two PTQs. One was anM14 sealed deck last year, which I made the top 8 of, and one was a Modern PTQ a few years ago, which I won and qualified for PT San Diego in.
This would never happen in the new system. The Modern PTQ seemed like a fun day in Philly, my good buddy Pete Ingram convinced me to go, and I walked away
with a plane ticket to San Diego. That is awesome.

Spiking also has greater allure for weaker players. All you have to do is run hot for one day, and you could be playing in your first Pro Tour! Variance is
what keeps weaker players in the game and having to run hot two tournaments in a row is much more difficult; while that might reward more diligent and
consistent players, it doesn’t feel as appealing to the more average player.

Winning a PTQ is the ultimate “feel good” moment. You went in with hundreds of other players, you came out on top, and now you have a Pro Tour invite and a
plane ticket to show for it. It’s a clean, easy to understand, and very tangible prize that is exciting and gets people excited for you.

This is one of the biggest problems I see with the new system, and with how they’ve been handling tournaments in general. There is a certain, intangible
aura that can be created with tournaments that makes them exciting, and each of these changes serve to lose more of that intangibility. Take States for
example. States used to be the most exciting tournament of the year for many players. It resided in the perfect space being casual and competitive, and
people just love it. Being State Champion for the year was a clean, exciting title that was extremely tangible and easy for non-Magic players to
understand. It felt good, and it felt like it meant something.

And that’s the biggest thing-

The new PTQ system is lacking in these awesome, “feel good” moments. In fact, the new system actually creates some feel bad moments. Even when you
win your PTQQ, you really haven’t won anything at all. And then if you top 4 the regional PTQ, you still didn’t really “win,” you just made it.

What happens when you are the only member of your play group to qualify? Your friends aren’t going to go if they aren’t qualified, which leaves you to make
the multi-hour drive to the regional PTQ alone. Sounds fun. If you lose playing for top 8 all of that extra work goes down the drain, and you can get some
dinner alone before you head home empty handed.

While the new system does solve some problems, it really does a poor job in creating the intangible “feel good” moments that are so vital to the success of
any endeavor. The mini PTQQs feel less important than PTQs, and not having them be seasonal also makes them feel disconnected- there’s just something
consistent about having an entire season of one format. Maybe Wizards doesn’t want the busier, non-grinder players on the PT. Maybe my demographic is not
their target, and it is possible that doing it this way is better for the game.

But it does kinda stink that I can’t just play an event, play well, and walk away with an invite anymore.