Why More Doesn’t Always Equal Better: Reforming The PTQ System

Tuesday, September 21st – The Tournament Organizer who brought back States has some thoughts on Sam Stoddard’s proposed PTQ reforms!

I enjoyed Sam Stoddard article
“Let’s Change the PTQ System: For The Love Of The Grind.”

Sam’s observations are well-grounded, and make sense.

I’m also intensely interested in his topic. See, I play in PTQs, I judge PTQs — and I

PTQs. I adore a well-done, dramatic, nail-biting Qualifier. It doesn’t matter what role I’m in — player, judge, or tournament manager. If it’s smooth, it’s golden.

Recently, we had a pretty lengthy conversation on Facebook about the Pro Tour Qualifier structure. One element that struck me vividly was how everyone thought the system should change to suit their circumstances. Sunmesa Events (for whom I manage tournaments) operate in one large market (Los Angeles) one medium market (Las Vegas) and one small market (Albuquerque).

The needs of each of those communities tend to be very different. So Cal is a Magic beast — most years they get a Pro Tour or a Gran Prix. The local Pro community is very strong, with a large number of gravy-trained and rating-qualified players. Depending on the big picture, they get seven to eleven PTQs a year, all within an easy drive of an hour or less. That’s not near as many as the Midwest or Mid-Atlantic gets — but its close, the community is good, and as such a PTQ is hardly a big deal for the top-end players. These PTQs tend to hit around 200 to 250 players.

Las Vegas players thrive in the middle ground. They get three PTQs a year — but within a five-hour drive, you can access all of So Cal, Nor Cal, Utah, and Arizona. Conversely all those markets can attend in Vegas. In other words, the grind is a big deal.

Sam’s article is likely to hit the jackpot for Vegas players. It sounds good, of course — until we institute his system and realize that only the PTQ grind players in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic will be taking home the extra invites. Those PTQs tend to hit 100 to 130 players

Finally, in Albuquerque we see the same number of PTQs as Vegas — three. But if you want to grind, it’s an eight-hour drive to Denver, Phoenix, and Vegas. Even if you take the road trip, you add a grand total of three qualifiers per season. For serious players in Albuquerque and non-grinders in Las Vegas, the PTQ is the top of the competitive food chain and tends to be an important data on the social calendar. These PTQs tend to hit 60 to 100 players.

Something similar to this situation plays out across North America each PTQ season. I study PTQ attendance; I read tourney reports; I look for anything that might make my players happier.

First, let’s consider the things Wizards has to think about when they’re structuring the PTQ circuit:

Invites and Prizes are Limited for a Reason

The Pro Tour is hideously expensive for Wizards to operate. Remember when
Oprah gave her a studio audience a free trip to Australia

, and got huge press for it? The Wizards Organized Play Department does almost the same thing,

huge cash prizes and parties and gifts

times a year. Oprah’s a cheapskate by comparison.

For the Pro Tour to matter, it

be limited. Both budget and marketing appeal require it.

Simply Asking for

Doesn’t Change Anything.

Yes, Wizards understands

situation has merit. Yes,

argument makes sense. Yes,

suggestion is balanced — but sorry, we have to say no.

Huh? What? So you run into Renee, Scott or Lora — the bigwigs of Wizards’ Organized Play — at an event, and somehow corner them long enough to make your pitch. Ever notice how when you begin to veer into “I want,” their eyes glaze over? It’s because they’ve seen this movie at least two hundred times this year!

If you want real substantive change to the system, sort out how to solve

wants. Then, perhaps, you can work in some of your agenda.

It Must Work Worldwide

North American players are pretty well taken care of already. We have the majority of the invites; we have the largest number of sponsored plane tickets. We tend to have the closest Pro Tours. If you think it’s bad for you, consider the grind into the Pro Tour in Latin America — the entire continent gets a Grand Prix once every other year. So suck it up and sort out a suggestion which is really an improvement worldwide.

It Cannot Increase Wizard’s Organized Play Workload or Budget.

The entire OP budget (including FNMs, Prereleases, Game Days, WPN Championships, GPTs, National Qualifiers, Nationals, PTQs, GPs, and finally the PTs) is 100% a marketing expense. Anyone who thinks the entry fees come

to paying for any of the costs doesn’t understand the expenses involved. It’s little wonder that JSS, the fourth Pro Tour, and States were all axed — the OP budget is full! Anything which increases the Wizards OP workload or budget is a near auto-reject.

So what

be done that makes sense? Reforms that are self-funded, self-operating, create minimal complaints worldwide,

add value to the brand.

will be the ones which get even a nod of support.

So here’s a few:

1) Create a Network Which Vastly Reduces Travel Costs.

The single biggest burden to the PTQ player isn’t card cost or entries; it’s the gas/hotel/food/plane ticket. How to effectively reduce those costs?
Let’s begin by creating a


with a rideshare network that matches strangers willing to share expenses on the road for the GP/PTQ player. This network already loosely exists at the Pro player level; now we need to create it at the GP/PTQ level.

The security issues involved in this project are daunting, but not insurmountable. Once you build this

players’ network, advertisers will buy ads on it. Even better, the friendships you build with road trips can last a lifetime.

Sunmesa has no desire to build this ourselves. It turns our budget’s a little full, too.

2) Create a Rent-a-Deck Network

After the travel costs, one of the biggest expenses that slows down budding players are Constructed decks. This last standard round of PTQs/Nationals saw decks that averaged $600 to $800, which is hard on the budget for the vast majority of interested players.

Many of you build your gauntlets for testing already. Why not recoup an extra $25-$75-$100 for each PTQ you attend loaning those unused decks out to players who are trustworthy and willing to pay? A

of decks is just the cure for this basic need.

Will this reduce sales of boosters or singles? I’d argue not. Sampling is one of the most powerful tools a modern marketer has to get a person to try an experience. I contend that the free entries given away by

are one of the reasons PTQ attendance improved this past year. We’ve provided sixty-plus players a vested reason to fill up carloads and make that trip. Even if a Rent-a-Deck player don’t elect to grind more PTQs, his play of a deck at a PTQ/GP will often seal the deal on him outright buying the cards for his FNM play. Meanwhile, you’ve reduced your costs in with a safe valuable service.

3) Celebrate, and Track, Honesty.

I can already hear you saying, “What the heck?” But this one’s more important than you might realize.

Both of the previous reforms require honest people to do what they

they’ll do. Players who sign up enthusiastically at the start of a season and continually bail at the last minute have to be recorded. Players who always fulfill their promises need gold stars — lots of them — which translates to lots of opportunities to qualify.

Let me put this another way: is your reputation good enough that you can show up at a PTQ without your wallet and deck, and

manage to play? I know a number of PTQ grinders who could make that happen. Their reputation for honesty and follow-through get them past many bad situations.

On a different level, thieves must be caught. Every time a thief steals a player’s collection, a PTQ grinder usually rolls out of the system. This means more costs are passed on to the remaining players. That means a play group lost a tester and a road warrior. That means

have fewer prizes, and fewer choices.

So turn in lost and found stuff right away! Don’t put up with friends who suggest that “finders keepers” is a valid reason to keep someone else’s stuff! Fifty players intent on preventing theft in a room of two hundred players will stop it

. Take pride in being a good guy.

Now so far, all of these suggestions have cost Wizards nada, take zero work on their part, and (if executed well) improve the player experience dramatically.

Now I’ll give you the last suggestion — which would take some work on Wizards’ part:

If a PTQ exceeds 300 players, allow that organizer to purchase the runner-up a plane ticket and give that player an invite.

This suggestion takes into account most of the concerns above. The extra invite, increase in budget and workload is minimal. It would mostly occur at Sunday PTQs at GPs, and a few of the larger communities. It acknowledges that “more players” really does deserve “more rewards” for those qualifiers.

A 300-person PTQ

a GP in a lot of places — so one extra invite, largely funded by the organizer, seems like good business.

Coming back to the title, oftentimes in life we think we want something and we get it (in this case, more invites) and we’re not any happier. That’s because the root causes of our unhappiness are not addressed. Reduce expenses, make the PTQs more accessible, and hard-wire integrity into the system and many of your frustrations will go away. Then perhaps a

more reward is just the cure.

Thanks for your time. If you have refinements to my suggestions (or more of your own), please post them in the forums. I’m very interested in your thoughts. Somebody in this audience is going to make some of these ideas happen. Sunmesa and other organizers will get a few more butts in chairs. More importantly, the PTQ grinder’s life will be made better.

I appreciate how hard you guys work, and want to see your life made simpler and easier. Eventually, I’ll formally make this last proposal to Wizards if they don’t adopt it on their own. Meanwhile, it’s good to get the power of the hive working on solutions.

I don’t always play in PTQs — but when I do, it’s Sunmesa.

Stay qualified, my friends!