(If you’re not interested in my thoughts on the recent OP changes and only care about Standard tech, search for “some advice” and you can skip to the
The past few weeks have been a tumultuous time for Magic organized play, with huge swaths of changes announced one after the other. Every level of event
that so much as brushes up against premiere play has been touched, from PTQs and Grand Prix to the Pro Tour itself. With so many changes coming all at
once, it’s hard to work out all of the implications. My first impression though, has been largely a positive one.
Let’s start from the top: at the level of the Pro Tour itself. There have been two major changes announced for the Pro Tour in the past few weeks, one of
which was met with such resounding opposition from the community that it was swiftly amended.
Let’s start with the Pro Tour formats. Initially it was announced that every Pro Tour next year would be Standard, with Modern relegated to the Grand Prix
circuit and Block dropped from premiere play altogether. I hadn’t anticipated the change, but it wasn’t surprising. When it comes down to it, the Pro Tour
is about marketing, and specifically, marketing the newest set. They even shifted from referring to Pro Tours based on location to naming them after the
set they follow, thus “Pro Tour Dark Ascension” and “Pro Tour Magic 2015” rather than Pro Tour Honolulu and Pro Tour Portland.
Standard is the most played format in the world. That means that it’s responsible for selling the most cards, especially more of the cards from the new
set. When Standard is a healthy format, new cards from new sets frequently cause major shifts in the metagame, allowing the set being featured at the event
Modern is rarely heavily impacted by a new set release. How many cards from Born of the Gods actually showed up in the Top 8 decks from Pro Tour Born of
the Gods, the most recent Modern Pro Tour? Only Springleaf Drum and that’s a reprint! Courser of Kruphix is the only card from Born of the Gods that really
saw any play at all outside of the Limited portion, which is hardly conducive to getting people excited about the new set.
Block Constructed is hugely impacted by the new set, since even a small set represents a large percentage of the total cards legal in the format. The
problem with Block Constructed is that no one really plays it outside of the Pro Tour itself and a small group of devotees on Magic Online. It certainly
showcases the new cards but not in any kind of actionable way for players following along at home.
With Standard, players can see a deck in the Top 8 that looks fun and decide to build it and take it with them to their local FNM. With Block Constructed,
the decklists are pretty much irrelevant the moment they’re posted because almost no one is going to play the format ever again. I remember when I started
playing on the Pro Tour again and they had block constructed Pro Tours with draft Top 8s, like in San Juan, Honolulu, or Nagoya, and I wondered why they
even bothered, because the coverage was basically nothing anyone really cared about. You didn’t even end up with a winning decklist for people to see!
Personally, I’m going to miss Block Constructed because it’s my absolute favorite format to play. I love the challenge of trying to find hidden gems in a
small card pool. My absolute favorite thing about Magic is that it provides a constant source of new puzzles to solve and new challenges to overcome with
each set, so exploring a totally new format is exactly what I have the most fun with.
That’s also exactly why I didn’t mourn the originally announced removal of Modern as a Pro Tour format. I enjoy playing Modern, but what I like most about
it is trying to build wacky new decks like the Pillar of the Paruns aggro deck I’ve recently played in a number of videos. The reality though, is that
without bannings, Modern just doesn’t change very much with new set releases, so the best strategy is to find some kind of powerful deck and play it as
much as possible so you can become an expert, like the Patrick Dickmanns and Sam Pardees of the world. It’s more or less a static format, which I don’t
find terribly appealing as a player and deckbuilder and which certainly isn’t good for trying to sell new cards.
That said, the outcry over the removal of Modern as a Pro Tour format was so great that clearly I am in the minority, and there is a large audience out
there that really loves it. This shouldn’t come as a surprise really given the attendance numbers at events like Grand Prix Richmond last year. I think a
lot of people really like exactly the part of the Modern format that I don’t–the fact that you can pick a deck and stick with it over the long term and
not have to worry about putting together something new when the format shifts drastically.
Given the substantial financial investment that comes with getting into the format, that perspective totally makes sense. Unlike in Standard, where decks
come and go quickly and you have to keep buying the new hotness to keep up, in Modern you can keep playing the same deck season after season and stay
competitive. That is, unless something ends up getting banned.
Frankly, I think part of WotC’s reason for not wanting Modern on the Pro Tour stage is the fear that the format is too difficult to shake up without
bannings. While pro players like bannings for exactly the reason that I do–it shakes up the format and allows opportunities to explore new strategies–the
average player understandably hates the idea that the deck they spent so much time and money putting together could be invalidated because a key card got
WotC clearly bent to the will of the community to keep Modern as a Pro Tour format. I’m curious to see whether they’re going to leave the format alone come
the next Pro Tour time as a service to those same fans who clearly like it the way it is, or if they’re going to bring out the banhammer once again and try
to shake things up. They could, of course, unban cards again (Bloodbraid Elf comes to mind, who unjustly took the fall for Deathrite Shaman in the first
place), but there are only so many times they can do that before the banned list is nothing but cards that would truly ruin the format if they were legal.
Overall, I’ll miss Block, and I’m not thrilled about Modern surviving the PT format chopping block, but I’m happy to see that WotC is willing to question
the longtime structure of the Pro Tour; what’s more, they’re clearly open to feedback from the community.
The other big change coming to the Pro Tour is also the major change at the Grand Prix circuit: a shift to basing points on final record rather than final
standing. This change is something for which I have personally advocated for a while now, mostly because the size of Grand Prix has just gotten out of
control, and players seeking pro points were essentially penalized for going to larger events compared to smaller ones. In a big enough event, it was
possible for two players with the same record to be something like 16th and 65th, meaning one of them got three pro points and the other got nothing.
Having something like that come down to tiebreakers is pretty miserable, and it’s great that we’re rid of that.
The other big improvement is that it eliminates the standings board scramble in the final round of every premiere event. I wouldn’t be surprised if only
about half of the matches in the last round of a lot of big events actually got played out; payouts based on final standing gives so many players incentive
to draw because they stand to gain little to nothing by winning and risk a lot by losing.
This actually happened to me twice in the past year or so of Pro Tours–in San Diego and recently in Portland. In San Diego, I lost against Mihara playing
for Top 8, and then in the final round, I chose to draw into Top 25 to lock my spot in the World Championship and qualify my opponent for Dublin. Just a
few weeks ago in Portland, I drew with Shouta Yasooka in the final round because both of our tiebreakers were too bad to make Top 25 with a win, and we
risked falling out of the Top 75 with a loss, so we drew and both squeaked into Top 50.
While I was personally happy with the outcome of both of these draws, from a competitive perspective, it’s better to offer incentives to play and win every
round. This is a big part of why I really like the rule that gives the choice of play or draw to the higher seed in the Top 8; it encourages players to
care about more than just the fact that they’re in the Top 8 itself, and gives weight to every win you earned in the swiss rounds. People respond to
incentives, and removing the incentive to draw instead of playing is great.
I do have one problem with the record-based pro point payouts though, and that’s the actual numbers assigned to them. It pretty much seems like every
record below the Top 8 is giving one fewer point than it should. Under the old system, a 12-3 record would sometimes be a Top 16 finish for three points
and sometimes a Top 32 finish for two points, but with the new system as it stands, it’s always worth two points, which seems wrong. I think increasing
13-2 to four points and going down from there (12-3 worth three, 11-4 worth two, and 10-5 worth one) would make the new system pretty much exactly what I
was hoping for. Particularly with the GP cap, I don’t think there’s much danger of point inflation that could come about by giving out one point to a bunch
of extra people.
The last change I want to talk about is the PTQ system. While this doesn’t impact me directly, it’s still something I’ve given a lot of thought since the
PTQ system is clearly the foundation on which the Pro Tour itself is built. The change is that rather than offering the traditional model of PTQs that
exist now, open tournaments in which the winner is awarded an invitation to the Pro Tour, starting next year, stores will be able to run preliminary PTQs
which will qualify the winner for a regional PTQ at which the top 4 or 8 players qualify, depending on attendance.
I certainly think there are some downsides to this new system. For one, it somewhat kills the dream that many players have of simply being able to get
lucky and win a single tournament that can catapult them to the Pro Tour. Secondly, it is difficult for larger areas that might not have a big enough
player base to support multiple regional PTQs, meaning that players will have to travel a great distance to play in the event if they actually qualify.
Both of these concerns are somewhat mitigated by the expansion of the Grand Prix circuit. Next year, there are going to be even more Grand Prix than there
were this year (and there were already a lot!), and instead of qualifying a number of players based on attendance, they will all offer slots to every
player in the Top 8 or with at 13-2 or better record. This means that players from regions like Latin America and Australia which might be negatively
impacted by the change to regional PTQs will have improved chances to qualify through the Grand Prix circuit since they’ll only have to make the Top 8
instead of the Top 4 of much smaller events than exist elsewhere.
I know that if I were a player looking to qualify for the Pro Tour, I would much prefer the new system. Back when I started playing competitively again
five years ago, I played in ten PTQs before I was able to win one and qualify. I made Top 8 in seven of those but kept losing in the quarter or semifinals.
Having to come out on top as the sole winner in a big event like that in order to qualify can be incredibly frustrating. I’d much rather just have to make
the Top 8 after qualifying through a smaller tournament.
Of course, the big question mark is what the attendance will be like at these preliminary PTQs. Will they actually be smaller tournaments? If the
preliminary events get to be as big as PTQs are now, then it means that players will just have to win a huge event before they can even play in the
tournament to qualify. There will certainly be many stores that don’t have anything close to the capacity to run current PTQ-sized events that will be able
to run these though, so players who are dead-set on qualifying should be able to find smaller events if they explore their local store community.
And frankly, that’s one of the huge benefits of this new system. WotC has been moving organized play into the store level for years now with prereleases
and then PTQs. While every store could run a prerelease, there were only so many PTQ slots to go around and only so many stores with the capacity to
actually handle them. This new system gives players incentive to check out stores in their area that they wouldn’t necessarily otherwise go to, which is
good for the business of those stores, which is in turn good for Magic as a whole.
The only premiere tournament system that didn’t get touched in these latest changes were the WMCQs, which is frankly the one that I personally dislike the
most. It’s funny to me that PTQs are moving away from a winner-take-all system to a tournament where multiple top finishes qualify when just a few years
ago Nationals moved away from exactly that kind of system toward the winner-take-all WMCQs. While I understand that the new system serves smaller markets
well, it certainly bugs me that there isn’t a single WMCQ within an eight hour drive of where I live, and the only one that’s less than a 24 hour drive
happens to be taking place this weekend while I’m working at GenCon.
I’d love to see a return to the old style Nationals, at least for larger countries like the US and Canada. It’s hard to justify driving 8+ hours for a
winner-take-all tournament, let alone paying for a flight, and yet I flew across the country every year to play in Nationals for a chance to represent the
USA on the world stage. Amusingly enough, it wasn’t until after they got rid of Nationals that I got a chance to do it, but the World Magic Cup was one of
the most fun tournaments I’ve ever played in, and I’d love a chance to make it back.
So while I won’t be playing in any of the WMCQs, I do have some advice for those of you who do!
- 4 Loxodon Smiter
- 4 Experiment One
- 4 Voice of Resurgence
- 4 Fleecemane Lion
- 2 Boon Satyr
- 4 Soldier of the Pantheon
- 3 Sunblade Elf
This is my latest list of G/W Aggro. The changes compared to the version that I played at the Pro Tour are the swap of a Boon Satyr for a third Sunblade
Elf in the maindeck to cut down the curve somewhat. I had wanted to shave some of the more expensive cards previously because curving out is so important,
and particularly with the rise of Rabblemaster Red, Boon Satyr has a lost a bit of value, while one-drops that can fight are even better.
The sideboard has similarly shifted along with the metagame. I now have two copies of Scavenging Ooze, two Ajani’s Presence, and two Reclamation Sage in
the place of Gods Willing, Back to Nature, and the two Ajanis. Back to Nature just isn’t very good when the default U/W Control deck has moved away from
Detention Sphere and Banishing Light to Planar Cleansing, while Ajani’s Presence is excellent against their sweepers and Reclamation Sage gives you a way
to fight against Nyx-Fleece Ram with value.
Scavenging Ooze is good against not only the aggressive red decks, but also against black. I tested it for a while before the Pro Tour as a cheap creature
you can curve out with, but that can also be an absolute monster in the mid-late game once your opponent has used a bunch of removal on your creatures.
It’s particularly nice that it’s green, since it can help fight against Blood Baron of Vizkopa out of the B/W decks that can otherwise be problematic.
Reclamation Sage is also good against those decks, which lean on Banishing Light for removal and sometimes still have Underworld Connections in their deck
I still feel like G/W is a great deck in the wake of the Pro tour, and it certainly was great there as well, taking Jackson Cunningham all the way to the
finals in his first Pro Tour and one of his first ever Constructed tournaments. If I were able to play in the WMCQ this weekend, this is what I would play.
Sadly, I cannot, so go forth and win with it in my stead!
What do you think of the OP changes? Let me know so we can discuss it!