The Dragonmaster’s Lair – Upheavals In OP

Now Available on Select! On Tuesday night, I was browsing Facebook between rounds of a Standard Daily Event I was filming on Magic Online. I was in the midst of berating Luis for something when Daily MTG revealed the latest changes to Organized Play.

I had intended to write a very different article this week, but suffice it to say that something came up that grabbed my attention. I know that this entire situation is a hot-button topic in the community right now, and there will be no shortage of writers weighing in on the situation, but I simply couldn’t bring myself to write something else without getting my thoughts on this whole matter out first. I’ll be back next week with my originally intended topic.  

On Tuesday night, I was browsing Facebook between rounds of a Standard Daily Event I was filming on Magic Online. I was in the midst of berating Luis for something on our team forum when he posted:

Luis Scott-Vargas whoa, buncha stuff on mtg.com (go look at that instead)”

It turned out that Luis wasn’t just trying to distract all of us from his durdling—and if you check out my video this week, you can get my reaction to the news in real time at the start of round four. I went to DailyMTG.com and there it was: “Changes to 2012 Tournament and Event Structure, Part III,” right next to “Deep Dive into Magic’s Organized Play Changes.” Surely, this would mean that WotC was finally revealing their future plans for the Pro Tour that they’ve kept us in the dark about for so long, right?

As I read on, I realized that was anything but the truth. The announcement didn’t clarify anything about what would be happening with the Pro Tour moving forward, except for announcing the cancellation of the World Championships in the form that we’ve known it for sixteen years and replacing it with what is essentially a new Invitational with cash prizes. They confirmed that the pro point system and thus Pro Player Club would cease to exist after this year (which every pro has suspected since the announcement of Planeswalker Points, but WotC has been unwilling to come out and actually say), only to say that it would be replaced by “something.”

Before I go much further, I want to point out that I am generally a major supporter of WotC and the decisions that they make. I like to think that I understand their motivations and can sympathize with their decisions that are made for the good of the game as a whole that might not benefit me in particular. While people ranted about the Planeswalker Points system when it was first announced, I backed it in articles on this very site and had in fact been a vocal critic of the impact the ratings system had had for years on discouraging people from playing. When people blasted taking damage off the stack, or double-faced cards, or whatever, I’ve generally been one to take WotC’s side.

Not this time. And a big part of that is because it’s virtually impossible to figure out exactly what WotC’s “side” even is! My biggest complaint about this entire situation has been with the terrible communication coming out of Renton. When Planeswalker Points were originally announced and Wizards said they’d be honoring Pro Player Club levels earned in 2011 throughout 2012, many pro players were understandably anxious that this seemed to suggest that the Pro Player Club was going away and were awaiting news on what would take its place. This week’s announcement confirmed that that suspicion was accurate, and the Pro Player Club is going away, along with pro points in their entirely. As for what is replacing them? A “new system that accomplishes the goal of making sure the most deserving players are recognized through Pro Tour invitations and other rewards.”

What does that even mean? That tells me nothing! How am I supposed to know if I want to spend my time and money to travel to the Grand Prix events coming up in a few short months if I have absolutely no idea what I might ultimately earn from my efforts? In the past few years, I’ve traveled to Grand Prix all over the world, from Singapore to Manila to Kuala Lumpur to Japan, because I knew that if I did well at those events, the PT points I earned could help get me to a higher Pro Player Club level, the rewards of which helped justify the enormous travel costs I incurred. The prize money certainly helped but wasn’t something I could count on—besides, I barely profited from my trip when I actually won the Grand Prix in Sendai; flying around the world certainly isn’t cheap. Next year, I’m not even sure if I can justify flying to Austin, Texas, because I have no idea what this new system means.

The Pro Tour is about selling a dream. It’s about saying that if you play enough Magic, and get good enough, you too can fly around the world and play in these tournaments against the players you read about online. And the Pro Player Club was the best system I’ve seen for making that dream a reality. I’ve been playing Magic long enough—and played on the Pro Tour long enough—to have seen the many different ways WotC tried to make the idea of legitimate professional Magic players a reality, and the Pro Player Club was by far the most successful.

The first of these, the Masters Series, was a single-elimination tournament series that invited 32 players to play in a tournament at the same venue as each Pro Tour for big stakes (in fact, it was very similar to the new incarnation of the World Championships that was just announced…). As it was, the Masters Series was too high variance and too low profile, since any coverage done of the Masters Series was attention that cut away from the Pro Tour itself.

The next system, the end of year payout, awarded money to the top fifty players in the POY race based on their standing, which worked incredibly poorly, since it didn’t help players actually pay to travel to events throughout the year, and many players ended up just quitting immediately after getting their check from the season, since it did nothing to encourage them to continue.

The Pro Player Club solved all of these problems, essentially only paying out to players who stayed in the game, ensured that much of the money actually went toward getting those players to events, and rewarded consistent solid play and commitment—essentially the perfect mix to create the stars to sell the Pro Tour dream. And now it’s going away, with a nebulous and undefined system replacing it?

Maybe the new system will be awesome, but frankly that’s not the point. The point is that we need to know what we’re playing for. We need to know why we’re shelling out hundreds of dollars on cards and thousands of dollars on travel costs. And it’s not just professional players who this affects—it affects anyone who might decide to travel to a PTQ, or a Grand Prix. These massive changes in Organized Play without a clear explanation of how they’re going to work in the future breed uncertainty. I’ve heard lots of players who have already said they aren’t interested in traveling to Grand Prix events anymore because even if they do well, they can’t be certain they’ll get a slot on the Pro Tour. Now if they make it to the Pro Tour, they don’t even know what that’s going to mean anymore.

Now that I’m thinking about it—has WotC even announced what the payouts are going to be for the Pro Tour next year? They’ve already announced that they’re cutting one—in a roundabout way, mind you, disguised as an announcement for the new World Championships. That event is slated to give out $100,000—less than half the payout of the Pro Tour they’re cutting—but I’ve seen nothing indicating that the payout for other PT events isn’t changing as well. Normally I wouldn’t even worry about these sorts of things, but the communications from Wizards have been so painfully opaque and filled with spin that I find myself reading everything.

The new World Championships, by the way—insulting. I don’t mean the event itself, by the way. I think the idea of a best-of-the-best tournament is a great idea, and putting a big chunk of cash behind the concept of the Invitational is a great way to highlight the game’s elite and get them to take it seriously. But the announcement itself was absurd. The language was such that it tried to frame the event as some sort of unique opportunity to determine who’s the best player ONCE AND FOR ALL! Why does this World Championship somehow decide that better than, say, the previous format of the World Championships? Or a Pro Tour? It doesn’t, of course, but I suppose they think that if they spin it that way we won’t notice that they’re taking away the coolest event of the Magic year and replacing it with an event that costs them a fraction of the amount to run.

If WotC was clear and honest in their communication and actually told us that they were re-prioritizing their Organized Play budget away from PT play and toward the Grand Prix circuit to impact more players—I’d be a bit bummed, but I’d be okay with that. But they’re not doing that. They’re giving us smoke and mirrors, hand waving and Q&A’s that ask questions but don’t even really answer them. They’re telling us how awesome it will be to finally answer the question of who the best player in the world is, but really only giving players who travel to every Grand Prix a shot at qualifying—oh, and while they haven’t told us why we should go to Austin next year yet, they’re telling us in retrospect that we really should have gone to the last few Grand Prix if we wanted a chance at that 100K!

The scariest thing to me came from a Twitter conversation in the aftermath of the two articles, in which Aaron Forsythe posted the following in response to a suggestion that they shouldn’t treat OP announcements like spoiler season:

mtgaaron Aaron Forsythe 
@mixedknuts @wrongwaygoback You’re right. During spoiler season we actually know all the information ourselves ahead of time.

mtgaaron Aaron Forsythe 
.@semisober I’d rather you understand this is a work in progress than think we’re intentionally withholding important details.

The issue isn’t that they’re being coy with the information—it’s that they haven’t even figured it out yet. While I typically have faith in WotC’s ability to do things right, it seems like this is a little late for a work in progress that has such a huge impact on what the Pro Tour dream means to everyone who’s chasing it, to say nothing of the reality for those of us who treat the Pro Tour as a job. If someone offered you a job, and when you asked what you were going to get paid, they told you “well, that’s a work in progress—but you should come in tomorrow!”, what would you think?

Please, WotC. I love Magic. I want to keep playing it for a long time, and you’re making it really hard not to grow up and focus on my real job. Just communicate with us clearly, honestly, and in a timely manner, and don’t try to feed us spin. That’s really all I ask.

Anyway, that’s enough ranting for me. Had to get that out of my system.

See you next week.