A few years ago, I wrote an article for Neutral Ground Online about how easy it was to qualify for the Team Pro Tour. At the time it was true because of the low turnout at PTQs and Grand Prix’s for that season. Since then, Wizards has instituted a Ratings Invite Threshold that continues to make the Team Pro Tour your best chance to qualify for the Pro Tour.
A Ratings Threshold means that everyone – or every team, in this case – with a rating of X or greater will be invited to Pro Tour Boston 2003. I use X because the ratings threshold for the upcoming season has not been set yet. It was 1700 two years ago when the system was first put into place and it went up to 1750 for last year’s event. It seems likely that the threshold for this year will be 1800, but it has not been announced as of yet.
Just to give you an idea of how easy it is to qualify… I have qualified for this Pro Tour every year but the first season. With teammates Brook North and Eric Kesselman – collectively known as Monkey Dog – we even won $3,000 at Pro Tour New York 2001 and managed to Q Eric for the next couple of Pro Tours courtesy of the six Pro Points our top 16 finish yielded him. We were qualified to play in Boston last year, but were unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict for Brook. We are currently ranked in the Top 25 teams in the world at 1798. If the ratings invite goes up to 1800, we would need a single sanctioned win to be qualified for the fourth straight season.
It is unlikely that we are going to play together this year, though, as Eric Kesselman has expressed interest in playing with his poker buddies Jon Finkel and David Price. We will try and get the two points needed to have a back-up invite – but with the king of qualifiers on your team alongside one of the game’s all-time money winners, I don’t see how they can fail to qualify.
My plan is to qualify with a new team. I had some success last year with Mike Flores. We played with former Dojo-er Charles”Tuna” Hwa and with Jon Becker. We made the finals of both tournaments we played in and Mike and I decided to play together in the future should the need arise.”Tuna” never plays, and Becker is no longer allowed to play on Mike’s teams due to some infinite losing streak Mike went on playing with or against Becker in team drafts. Finally we found out that Matt Boccio was willing to team with us and we snapped him up before he could have second thoughts to form Please Boccio Win. Matt is an upcoming New York player who had reasonable success in the JSS and has been tearing up the PTQ circuit until he can manage to stick on the Pro Tour.
Despite my 1798 with Monkey Dog, Please Boccio Win will start its campaign to qualify with the same meager 1600 that all new teams have when they form. Any new permutation of three players counts as a new team, even if two of the players may have played together before – if it is not the exact same three players, it counts as a new team. Due to the high churn rate of teams – it is rare for most teams to be able to play together year after year – most teams in a tournament start out with a virginal 1600 rating. As a result, most matches are worth half of the K value of the tournament. Since you play against teams with the same record as you in a Swiss tournament, it is likely that you will have similar ratings to your opponents all day long. A 5-0 record can yield 80 points at a 32K event. Even a 3-0 at a measly 16K event is worth 24 points.
If you can string together those two events, you are halfway to being qualified for the next Pro Tour.
The reason I bring this up is that the Team PTQ season is only a couple of months away. It kicks off June 1st and continues though the end of July. The mistake most players make is waiting too long to form a team. Find one now and start practicing building Team Sealed Decks. In this format your team receives two Onslaught Starters and four boosters – for the PTQs, it will be two Legions and two Scourge, but for now you will have to use four Legions – to build three decks.
If you wait until the season is upon you, you’ll find that the better players have been snapped up by more enterprising teammates, eager to get a jump on the new year with the best free agents of the off season. In New York there is already a flurry of activity as good players hoping to get on the Tour are forming teams and eagerly anticipating the first sanctioned events they can play in.
You don’t have to wait for the Pro Tour Qualifiers in June. There will be a Grand Prix in Pittsburgh sometime in the vicinity of the end of May and that will be preceded by a round of Grand Prix Trials – and by the way, the Trials should all use four boosters of Legions, since the Scourge Prerelease is not until May 17th! Not only do you have the opportunity to win two valuable byes for Grand Prix Pittsburgh but these are sanctioned team events that you can use to get a leg up on your ratings invite. Usually valued at 24K, a couple of Grand Prix Trials can leave a winning team within sight of a ratings threshold invite.
If you are serious about trying to qualify for this season, you should also pester your local store owner/tournament organizer to run sanctioned team events. If they are worried about the expense of doing Team Sealed, I would like to recommend another option: I know that many organizers run winners-take-all booster drafts, and Team Rochester draft is a sanctionable format for teams. Your organizer can run a tournament where every team pays a nominal entry fee and brings eighteen boosters evenly dividable into six draft sets. The teams then compete against each other in single elimination, Team Rochester Drafts… Essentially when you lose, you push your second set of draft packs forward to the team that defeated you, and they face off against another team with those packs.
In the end, one team walks away with all the cards and everyone get some practice in an underplayed format. It is really important to try and keep the number of teams to a power of two or you have to give out a bunch of buys in the first round. If you have eight teams, then the winning team will win the equivalent of four boxes of boosters – granted, they are opened, but there should be plenty of good cards for you and your teammates to divvy up. Since Team Rochester is also the format for the top 2 of the Trials, Day two of the Grand Prix as well as day two of the Pro Tour – so you might as well get familiar with the format.
Team Rochester Draft is a format where three teammates (A, B and C) sit down on one side of the table with A and C diagonally opposite their counterparts with the B player in the middle. The team that wins the coin toss decides whether they want to open first (kick off) or not (receive). The team that kicks off has their B player lay out all the cards in the pack in full view of all the players and player B picks a card, player C, sitting to his left follows suit, and then the other team gets their crack at the pack with player A getting the third pick of the pack. Eventually Player A form the team that opened gets tow picks and the pack swings back around. The next pack is opened by Player C and the process is repeated. Eventually, player A opens twice in a row with the second pack switching directions. It switches back again when the packs rotate back to the player that originally opened. When all of the cards are drafted, the players build their decks and face off against their counterpart on the other team. The team that wins two out of these three matchups is the winning team.
The big challenge of the format is that each player’s picks are made in full view of everyone and there is a battle to get favorable match-ups and keep track of what your opponent is playing.
If anyone knows of any sanctioned team tournaments in there area, I will use a future column to promote them. Just send the information to [email protected] and I will put together a schedule that will be posted on this site. Grand Prix Trials, team side events at the Scourge Prereleases, Pro Tour Qualifiers, even just local store tournaments as long as they are sanctioned three-man team events will be included.