Welcome to my latest series of daily articles on StarCityGames.com. The first two articles this week will focus on some problems that Wizards of the Coast have had with recent events scheduling (or lack thereof). Wednesday will address an interesting theoretical problem, Thursday will appeal to casual players, and Friday will blow your mind away.
Today’s article addresses the problems of US Regionals attendances this year. Attendances were down at almost every Regionals, sometimes by a significant percentage — people I’ve spoken to report that they had 20%-40% fewer attendees in their region when compared to last year. Why were these attendances down? What can be done to reverse this trend for next year?
Unified Standard Constructed was extremely popular for the Charleston Pro Tour Qualifier season. The format for Regionals (Standard Constructed) was virtually identical to the PTQ season, excepting the addition of Dissension. Why was one format setting new records for attendance while the other was setting new records for attendance… in the opposite direction?
1) Time Of Year
Last year, Regionals was held on June 26th. This year, Regionals was held on May 20th. One common complaint I’ve heard was that Regionals was smack-dab in the middle of many high school and college graduation weekends.
2) Not Enough Playtest Time
May 20th was the first day that Dissension was legal. Because of this, players did not have a lot of time to playtest with Dissension cards. This was especially pronounced this year, because of the nature of the Ravnica block design — in the past, there weren’t many completely new archetypes introduced by the third set of a block. In this case, three new guilds (with three new mechanics) were added wholesale — W/U, B/R, and U/G were completely redefined by Dissension, and with only two weeks of playtest time, players did not have adequate time to test the cards, or resources to acquire the cards.
3) The Format Is Too Expensive
The new shock lands are amazing from a play perspective. They are not amazing from a wallet perspective. Many decks have manabases that run well into the $100 range, making the cost of entry into Standard prohibitively expensive to the casual player. There’s a huge difference between running a deck with sixteen artifact lands circa Mirrodin block, and running a deck with sixteen shock lands circa Ravnica block.
4) Players Don’t Like Playing For Only Four Slots
There have always been complaints that Regionals is a twelve-hour marathon session where only the Top 8 players are rewarded. I think, though, that most players would rather play twelve hours for eight slots, than play ten hours for four slots. With even less of a chance to qualify, some players were discouraged from attending.
5) Low Nationals Payout
The payout for US Nationals was dropped from Pro Tour-level pay to Grand-Prix level pay. Because of this, there was less incentive for a Pro Tour player to want to qualify for Nationals. Nationals has become more of a matter of pride, and less of a matter of finances.
6) Too Spread Out
There have been lots of Regionals added over the past few years, because some Regionals have sported ridiculously bloated attendances (1000+ Ohio Valley Regionals, anyone?) This used to make Regionals the biggest event of the year for many people! Nowadays, Regionals are much smaller (many are smaller than prereleases or highly attended PTQs), and less of a must-attend event.
7) The Cost of Gas
Gas is really expensive in the United States right now, and the cost of gas may have discouraged people from traveling to Regionals.
Standard, as a format, is great right now. These factors (and others, that I would love to hear about in the forums of this article) contributed to the lowering of Regionals attendance this year. This problem isn’t unsolvable — almost all of the above problems have solutions. The date of Regionals can be moved. Excess Regionals can be condensed. Wizards can move essential lands to Uncommon instead of Rare. The date of Regionals can allow for a little more time for Friday Night Magic testing. Every Regionals can give eight slots, regardless of attendance — why limit it to four, when the Wizards staff can handle a slightly larger player group at Nationals?
I hope that Organized Play addresses the problems with Regionals attendance that occurred this year, because Regionals is a great event, a showcase for Standard, and a mainstay of the Magic calendar year. It’s worrisome that attendance dropped off as much as it did this year, especially given the strong attendance of the PTQ Standard season immediately preceding it, and I’d love to see Regionals return to their glory numbers of yesteryear!