The Last Word On Tiered Tournaments: Why I Quit Magic, And What Tiered Tourneys Could Have Done To Stop Me

The arguments given on the tiered tournament system ring a special interest for me. First, because I am – or really was – a scrub. I do not take pain at the fact that I was never as good a Magic player as I could have been; I enjoyed my time playing Magic, even if…

The arguments given on the tiered tournament system ring a special interest for me. First, because I am – or really was – a scrub. I do not take pain at the fact that I was never as good a Magic player as I could have been; I enjoyed my time playing Magic, even if I did get smacked around a lot. You may notice the past tense: I am a player who, for one reason or another, quit playing Magic a few years ago. So essentially, I suppose I am of the crowd that the original piece is defending. However, I question the basic premises behind their arguments, as I do not feel they are on the mark. At the same time, I find the responses they’ve generated also miss my points.

The core points made by those who argue it seem fascinated with the other problems that exist within Magic and not really the problems that the tiering system brings up.

Richard Young brings up two good points in his piece, which I liked. First off, he is entirely correct: Arrogant pro players are ten times the hindrance to a new player than being beaten is. It’s one thing to lose a game: Everyone has done that. And everyone realises when they lose to a superior player that they themselves need to get better. Magic is not a”gift” game; anyone can become a better player with time and effort. But being harassed and ridiculed by your opponent, who is likely older and perhaps sitting with friends who’ve already finished? These are bullying experiences – and when experiences like that mix into Magic, it becomes associated with playing”top-level Magic.”

However, as much as this may be a real problem, does or does not the tiering system have an effect on the possibility of these matchups occurring? The answer is a likely yes. So it’s difficult to use this argument to dismiss the tiering system. Is the problem not that you’re being humiliated for losing? And if you would be put on more even ground, wouldn’t you be less likely to meet those very situations?

He also makes a good point about the stores involved. I was a regular at a store where Magic tournaments were held weekly. Not a big store, but a store, and I knew the owner fairly well. Running tournaments is not necessarily easy work, and the larger it gets, the more work that must be put in. You need a judge, you need to watch over stock, you need to make reports, do a lot of administrative work. Generally it has its positive effects… But it is a lot of work. And adding more stuff to these folks’ workload is a negative thing.

However, the argument is complex here and it truly depends. If software is written which can track down a player’s ranking and set up the tournament with nothing more than an internet connection, it doesn’t necessarily add more work to the TO’s plate. But if it does, it’s very bad. So I definitely agree with him here, but I also question whether or not it would really change anything. Frankly, I don’t know.

Both Chris Jenkins and Greetz Nico rely on an argument which seems to be based around the idea that a player can not be judged solely based on their DCI rating, and doing so would be a hindrance to the enjoyment of players. I can not find this more wrong.

Although I admit without a doubt in my mind that the DCI rating is not a be-all and end-all way to judge a player, we have to admit something to ourselves here: Magic is a very complex game. Remember how I said I was a scrub when I was younger? Well, my basic problem is that I simply didn’t devote enough time into Magic to improve my game. You need to playtest, you need to have a good sideboard, you need to know the metagame, and you need to know opposing decks. Although you can partially learn these things from reading or playing online, it does not sharpen a player’s real-life skills as much as sitting down with a room full of similar skilled players and spending eight hours playtesting against every deck imaginable.

Decks don’t play themselves. Deckbuilding is an important skill earned from wisdom and experience – but playing the game is several echelons above this and requires scores and scores of game playing in a tournament environment. Have you ever sat across from a player and watched him get nervous? Watch him look at his cards and how he reacts? Have you seen someone make mistakes, mess up, count something wrong? All of these things come from inexperience in real-life tournament playing. If you have no real DCI rating, how much high-level Magic are you actually playing? How many times have you sat across from a pro player and been forced to control yourself and judge your opponent? Without this experience, you are simply not a good player – and you won’t be able to do as well.

Again, I stress that your DCI rating does not express you as a player in a four-digit number… But it is indicative of your total experience and your playing skill. Unless there’s a lonely deserted town out in the middle of nowhere with twenty highly-skilled players who just somehow ‘magically’ evolved their skills without a nearby source of sanctioned tournaments to gather them up and organize them, then it’s unlikely that a player is going to have the personal elements to do well.

There is a divided interest in the various arguments which seems to either defend or attack scrubs, and on the reverse defend or attack the pro level players. Who does the tiering system favour? Who does it really grant a bonus to?

It’s true that a player who shows up with a rogue deck has the ability to do well based on the fact he existed outside of the metagame – however, if his deckbuilding skills and playing skills are not past a certain threshold, he is still unlikely to really emerge victorious. Sure, he got his shot at the ‘top’ players – but it’s a long shot and it’s questionable as to whether or not it’s truly a worthwhile experience. At the same time, though, a player may learn a lot from watching a good player perform. I know playing with other, much better, players gave me insight in how to act during a match, how to shuffle (it sounds silly, but it isn’t!), how to judge my opponent’s actions, and so on. It’s a big part of becoming a better player. If you have no chance of ever meeting these players in any environment, you will suffer as a player and not take away as much when you finish your tournament. This helps no one.

It’s true that a rogue scrub might win… But I question whether or not it’s truly going to be anything more than a pointless experience. Here; I’ll tell a brief story from my Magic past. When I was still actively playing, I regularly drafted with a crowd of much better Constructed players. Whereas I was a poor Constructed player, I looked forward to Limited Magic, simply because I did better and I had more fun. At a point in time I got the luck of getting to draft with Gary Wise in that casual environment. I played him in the first round, unsanctioned, and I won.

You would assume that this would be exactly what you were talking about, right? No, it’s not. Gary had the better deck, and he lost out due to mana screw. We played a few games afterwards, and when not mana screwed he did beat me. What does this prove? Did I”beat” the pro? No, I did not. He lost due to bad luck and I lost something too. Rather than getting to see a better player perform and see how I matched up against him, I instead got a meaningless victory.

Okay, so let’s say this is a sanctioned tournament. Then I would have gotten lucky and stolen a relatively big pile of Limited points from Mr. Wise. We wouldn’t have played a few casual games afterwards, though, so I would have missed out on the learning experience and the fun. Don’t tell me winning manascrew games are fun – they’re not.

But I would have gotten the points, right? Well, big deal. It’s totally the wrong mindset. I wasn’t a serious player, and I wasn’t really interested in accumulating points, because I wasn’t really able to hold onto them. If I’m not a serious player, then my DCI rating doesn’t mean as much to me. I’m not putting the effort in and I’m not good enough to do well at the Pro Tour or anything else, anyways. If I’m not a serious player, I’m more interested in having fun.

Now the question there is, does a tiering system mean I get to have more fun? I don’t know. Most people enjoy good games of Magic – you know the ones. The ones where it goes to turn 40 and you battle it out, trading card for card. Do you mind when you lose a game like that? I don’t; I reach across the table and shake my opponent’s hand. Now, the question, again, is would the tiering system improve my odds of having good Magic games? On a level, yes it would.

However, at the same time is slows my development as a player and it reduces my enjoyment of the game in another fashion. Although good games are great, I also look at my DCI ratings and they are woeful indeed. I would probably be a measure happier if I had done better and had more pride in my indication of skill. But a tiering system would make it take longer to improve my ranking and make it a harder uphill climb. Breaking the threshold of your division’s top ranking would be a precarious feat. Let’s go back to the lonely outlander player who hasn’t been to any DCI events: Okay, so he decides he liked his taste of ‘pro’ Magic and he decides he’s going to get better. He gets a ride out consistently and he builds up a cadre of players to playtest with. In short, he decides to cease being a scrub and improve his game.

Okay – but here, the tiering system is going to hold him back a bit. There will be no rogue pro crushings. He will not gain a big pile of points from one match and rocket out of his division. Instead, he will be forced to slowly trade up his division until he sits almost out of reach. And then, he’s facing people who are only below him in points, giving him less points. I’m not totally sure on how the DCI ratings work nowadays, but to my recollection it honestly sounds like he’s actually being punished as a new player!

Now that I’ve made my long-winded points, I wanted to say something about the lost scrubs. As I said, I quit Magic. Was I unhappy with Magic? Sometimes. Did I hate losing? Nope, I had gotten used to it. What honestly drove me out are a few factors combined:

To be honest my biggest complaint against Magic is R&D. I do not like the way sets are developed, and I am not generally happy with their efforts. I wasn’t then – and looking over 7th* and Odyssey, and I’m really not now. (Apocalypse is good, though.) The generally basis here is that when I was a scrub, I was poor. When you’re sixteen and working part-time, you have only so much money to allocate into deck building, never mind the cost of drafting, snacking, tournaments, rides, so on. R&D seems to generally enjoy reinforcing this rule. Have you ever opened a pack and got a rare like, say, Mudhole? It’s useless. You’ve spent money and you lost. You won’t use the card and you’re not happy with it. Yes, it’s true that on some level this is preventable, but they often pass the point where it’s very clear and visible that they continually beat down a card until it just wouldn’t get played. It will sit in someone’s binder or box and collect dust. When you’re a young scrub with a limited budget, why the hell would you bother? Hey, I can open a box of Magic cards…. Or I can go buy a new game for my Playstation. The rewards of paying so much to play seem rather unrewarding when you’re sinking money into dud sets like Homelands or Odyssey. There’s no reason for these sets to exist. We all know that cards have relative power levels and that the options to a deckbuild are very, very clear-cut.

Two-power red creature for one mana: Will get played.

Two-power red creature for two mana: Might get played if it has a nice ability.

Two-power red creature for three mana: Very unlikely to get played.

Two-power red creature for four mana: Will not get played unless it has an amazing ability.

We know these things. We can scan over a spoiler list and make – I’m willing to bet – 90% accurate predictions on whether or not a card will ever be played. And every single rare should be playable. Absolutely. What punishes a scrub more than blowing his savings on two big boxes of a set and getting only five playable or tradeable rares? You can say that it doesn’t… But I know people who quit after buying boxes, just too disappointed and too frustrated with spending a triple-digit sum to get next to nothing.

And please don’t mention the fact that players can open a box, think they got great cards and then they get banned or have been banned. Honestly, bannings suck. They are draconian and completely inexcusable. Sure, a card is over powered: Errata it. Unbreak it. It might be a little more complex, but at least those cards wouldn’t become kindling.

This is the single largest reason I, as a scrub, quit Magic. I wasn’t interested in sinking in the money to a habit that wasn’t show a reward for the cash put in. This is from a teenager who didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, didn’t buy console video games, and didn’t own a computer! And I watched a lot of my friends drift out of Magic. The game just didn’t continue to hold onto them after a while. I can look over various reasons from ten to twenty different people of varying ages and lifestyles, and none of them quit Magic because they got humiliated at a tournament. I’m sure some people do… But for me, that wasn’t the problem.

Now you add in that, you add in pro arrogance, you add in all the other troubles… And that’s why people quit Magic or don’t get into it at all. I don’t think that a tiering system is going to benefit the people who drop out as much as other options would, or perhaps even enough to justify it. I don’t think losing games bothers someone who knows he’s playing over his head – I really do not. If you lose to a better player who’s polite and friendly, fine; you lost. Hell, if you win against some arrogant jerk, he’ll probably make that a miserable experience too!

So, in short (’cause this was long), I agree with most people who argue that the tiering system wouldn’t be an improvement. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea – but since it most likely will not do what it sets out to do, there isn’t a reason to go ahead with such an idea. It won’t keep people playing Magic and it might end up working as a barrier to new players. At the same time, I don’t agree with the arguments others used, at least not in full.

Iain Telfer (Taeme on IRC)

* – 7th is just not a set I’m happy to look at. I loved Urza’s Block, and I’m disappointed in 7th. It lacks a lot of the more interesting rares, and it reprinted stuff that just doesn’t need to exist. No one played Bellowing fiend the first time around, why does it need to come back? It’s a waste of cardboard. 7th should be based around the idea of equipping medium-level players with a strong and understandable card pool, as well as giving players strong rares which will see play (which it does, to some extent), not on reprinting gunk like Darkest Hour and Reckless Embermage. Come on, what kinda newbie is gonna love cards like this? Hell, I don’t even see how Darkest Hour is a medium level card. I’m not saying it’s horrible, but I don’t want to see reprints of cards from Portal or stuff no one used the first time. There doesn’t need to be one bad rare. Oh well, at least they stop printing Chaoslace.