Yawgmoth’s Whimsy # 274 – How to Get to Rome

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Thursday, May 7th – Late this fall, the World Championships will take place in Rome. I so want to be there, but I know the limits of my play skill, and the amount of time I can devote to playtesting. If I make it, it will be as a judge. However, if you want to play in Rome, you can get there either by playing in real life, or online. Let’s look at how the two compare.

Late this fall, the World Championships will take place in Rome. I so want to be there, but I know the limits of my play skill, and the amount of time I can devote to playtesting. If I make it, it will be as a judge. However, if you want to play in Rome, you can get there either by playing in real life, or online. Let’s look at how the two compare.

Qualifying for Worlds Online

Magic Online has, in the past, offered a qualifying tournament that sent the winner to the World Championships. To enter that tournament, players had to win a spot, either by winning a last chance qualifier or making the Top 4, if I recall correctly, in a qualifier Premier Event. Slots were limited, but there were a lot of opportunities to enter the final tournament. Generally, several hundred players qualified for that final tournament and competed for that single slot.

That one big tournament may be gone. Wizards has a new program — the Season Championships and the online Player of the Year race. These may, or may not, replace the single qualifier. Wizards could do both, but my guess is that the Season Champs and Player of the Year race will replace the one big tournament. The newer programs seems like a more evolved, more rational approach than just one big event.

The Season Championships began April 1st — seven months before Worlds. That time was divided into seven “seasons.” Each season ends with a Season Championship, which you have to qualify for. Qualification requires 15 qualification points (QPs.) You can earn one qualification point for winning an 8 player draft or Constructed event, and win three points for making the top 8 in a Premier Event (PE).

The Season Championship is a larger PE, open to everyone that has qualified. The winner gets an invitation to an eight player tournament to be played on WotC-supplied computers at Worlds in Rome. I’m sure it will be a spectacle, with spectators able to see the play on large monitors, etc. The prize for 8th place is $4,000, and they go up from there, so it will be worthwhile. Those eight players will also be qualified to play in the paper World Championship.

I did say that the period was divided into seven seasons, and that the MTGO event at Worlds was for eight players. The eighth player will be the MTGO Player of the Year. Winning the MTGO Player of the Year is simple — just accumulate the most QPs for the entire period from April to October. It’s a straight race — and we already have a clear favorite.

Qualifying for Worlds in Real Life

By comparison, the options for qualifying for Worlds by flipping cardboard are a bit more varied.

First of all, players with proven pro tour experience are automatically invited. The invites go to anyone with Pro Player Level 4 or higher. To attain Level 4 status, you need to have earned 20 Pro Points in the current season, or 25 points between the start of the 2008 season and June 8, 2009.

The second option is to qualify on rating. The top 50 DCI Composite- or Total-ranked players in one of the four geographic regions (Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America, and North America), qualify for the World Championships.

The third option is to win a slot at your National Championships. These come in two flavors. The first are open championships, which generally take place in smaller countries. These events are open to any of the country’s nationals, and the winner qualifies. Larger countries have closed National Championships, meaning that to qualify for those events, you need to win a Regional Championship, or to qualify for your Nationals based on rating (U.S. Nationals invited the top 100 US players), or Pro Player level (U.S. Nationals invited everyone with Pro Player Level 2 or better.) The closed Nationals are harder to enter, but they qualify the top 4 players.

Odds of Qualifying Online

I’m going to crank some numbers. Of course, just numbers don’t really reflect play skill. When players enter a 250-player events, not every player has the same 0.4% chance of winning. Play skill, experience with the format and other factors have a huge impact. At any event, at the very start, you can probably identify a dozen players that are likely to make the top 8, and unless they get two losses and drop early, they will finish in the top 16 or so. For other players, you can reliably predict that they will finish around 32nd — and others will be in the bottom dozen tables all tournament. Play skill matters, but I’m going to ignore it for a bit and just look at pure numbers.

First, the raw data. Each week of the season, somewhere between six and eight thousand qualifying points were up for grabs. The numbers vary, based on what events are firing. The number of scheduled PES is pretty constant, with roughly 80 PEs available. That means some 240 QP points are up for grabs via PEs — although you cannot really play in all the events, as many run concurrently.

A fair number of QPs were available through the 32-player Stronghold release events. These fired fairly often, and I personally earned 6 QPs playing in them. They count — but they are not always available. For the Alara Reborn online release, the most common events will be 24-player sealed events, and those will not award QPs.

The most common source of QPs, of course, are the eight man queues, specifically the drafts. There are hundreds of drafts per day. Constructed 8-man events fire occasionally, a draft fires every couple of minutes, even at the off times.

Wizards, and volunteer community leads on the Wizards forums, have been summarizing the results. Here are some rough numbers, week by week. Credit goes to bubba0077 and Hamtastic for the data.

Week one: 6,435 QPs were earned, by 2,625 different players. That’s an average of 2.45 points per player.

Week two: 6,308 QPs were earned, by 2,529 different players. That’s an average of 2.49 points per player.

Week one: 7,746 QPs were earned, by 2,854 different players. That’s an average of 2.71 points per player. This was the high point for QPs earned, but it was also a week with a popular NIX TIX format, the start of Stronghold NIX TIX drafts and lots of other drafts.

Week one: 5,815 QPs were earned, by 2,244 different players. That’s an average of 2.59 points per player. QPs are down, but the NIX TIX drafts were slowing, and people are beginning to save up their Alara packs while waiting for the Alara Reborn release events. At least, that’s my guess.

At the end of season one, 496 players qualified for the Season Championship. 345 players participated. (Wizards offered players the option of opting out — in which case they would get 6 packs and a textless Cryptic Command. That kept the numbers down a bit, and cut roughly one round off the total. Had I qualified, that is the option that I would have taken — I had a conflict for that day.)

During the season, 5,444 players earned at least one QP. Roughly one in eleven players winning a draft or making Top 8 in a PE qualified. That is not a direct reflection of the odds — some players were not trying to qualify. I was in that category — early on I realized that I could probably only play a half dozen drafts and 2-4 Tempest release events during the season (plus some paper events like FNMs, the Reborn prereleases, etc.) I’m sure that a good portion of those 5,444 players are in the same boat — too many real life conflicts to make qualifying practical. Let’s assume that half the players with QPs fall into that category. That makes the odds closer to one in five of earning the QPs.

Of course, that simple calculation ignore the time spent and the players skill levels. Those are awfully big things to ignore, so let’s look at the time needed to earn your QPs. For this, I’m not going to split time between events. Some players can play in multiple drafts or PEs at the same time. A few of them can also win at both at the same time. I am not one of those players, and I believe that there are far fewer good multitaskers than people — including those people — believe, so I’ll ignore event doubling.

Time per Point in a Premier Event

The average constructed PE has 28-40 players, depending on format. Weekend PEs are generally larger, as are Standard format PEs. That means that most PEs will be five to six rounds — anything with 33 to 64 players is six rounds. Assuming that you make Top 8, which is necessary to earn QPs, you will be playing at least one additional round. If you want more prizes, you want to play more rounds — preferably all the way to the finals. Events take roughly an hour per round, so earning 3 QPs in a constructed event will take 6-9 hours. If you play in a Limited event, add an hour (20 minutes to build a sealed deck, plus draft and building your draft deck.) Limited events almost always exceed 32 players, so plan on 6 rounds plus Top 8, and occasionally 7 rounds plus the draft.

Best case scenario, qualifying for the Season Championships via PEs will require Top 8ing five PEs, meaning that you will have to play approximately 40 hours worth of Magic to qualify. If you don’t Top 8 every event, increase that number. Personally, my best streak ever had me Top 8ing half the Limited events that I played in — and that streak was short. I suspect that Top 8ing one in four is more typical for a player like me. That means that I would have to play in 20 PEs to qualify. If I play them all out, that’s damn close to a full time job. Of course, you can drop once you are out of contention for Top 8 to cut the time spent playing, but still…

Time per Point in a Draft

Drafting online comes in two forms — single elimination and Swiss drafts. Single elimination is faster, when you don’t win, but you only get the qualifying points if you win. Swiss drafts are slower, mainly because having four matches every round instead of four, then two, then one, means that the chances of having to wait for a long match to finish increases significantly. This is especially true in round 2 — instead of having to wait until one other match finishes, the round cannot start until three other matches have finished. That often takes time. (Of course, if you are a slow player that often uses nearly all your clock, this will rarely be a problem.)

Best case scenario: if you win fifteen straight drafts, you will have to spend somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 hours or more to do so. Since winning 15 straight is pretty much impossible, the actual time spent would be much longer.

Fortunately, we have some better data. Judah Alt wrote a series of articles on another website. His goal was to win 15 QPs by playing 50 drafts. As it worked out, he got his 15th point in draft number 49. He estimated that he spent approximately 80 hours playing out those drafts. That’s faster than I could play them. Mr. Alt also mentioned that he has earned pro points in paper Magic, and has a rating well north of 1800. Even so, he does not recommend playing only in drafts as a method of racking up points unless you are really good.

When I really concentrate, and have practiced a draft format enough, I can win maybe one in five drafts. That means I could qualify by playing in roughly 75 drafts, which would take somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 hours. Since a MTGO season lasts four weeks, that’s 50 hours per week — or roughly what I spend at my real job. Of course, I wouldn’t have to commute to the drafts.

Time per Point in a Constructed Queue

This is something I don’t have a lot of experience with. The total time for an 8-man Constructed queue to finish should be less than a draft, since you don’t have to spend clock time drafting or building a deck. However, you would have to spend additional time constructing the deck ahead of time, and spend more time waiting for a queue to fire. Standard queues fire fairly often, but Extended and Classic 8-mans are much less common. A quick check just now showed three Standard con8s started in the last few hours, but no Extended or Classic events occurred.

After You Get 15 Qualifying Points

Getting the 15 QPs is just the first step. After earning a slot, you still have to win the event. The competition for that is pretty steep. As I mentioned, 345 players played in the first Season Champs. 344 lost. The caliber of competition is also pretty steep. Sam Black said he came in 14th, and Sam is pretty good at this game. I suspect that, given the prizes, a lot of other serious Magic pros were playing in the event as well.

The Alternative Route — MTGO Player of the Year

This paragraph will be even shorter than the previous one. The player of the year will be the person with the most QPs come October. At the end of season one, only four players had more than 65 points. Two players – a.c.a.i_20006 and bobcards2 — both had 67 points. Yaya3 had 85 points, but the leader — the leader by a country mile — was duotianshi203 with 99 points.

How long did it take to earn 99 points? If he played drafts, and won them all, that would be 250-300 hours. For someone like Judah Alt, who won roughly one QP point per 12 hours spent playing, that could not be accomplished without spending almost the entirety of the 28 days constantly playing two drafts at once. If duotianshi203 played PEs, he would have had to Top 8 33 — meaning that he would have spent well over 200 hours playing in those.

Catching up with duotianshi203 seems unlikely.

Odds of Qualifying in Paper Magic

It is a bit harder to do the stats for paper Magic. The numbers exist, but they are not necessarily relevant.

First of all, qualifying on rating is pretty straightforward. You have to be beyond good — you have to be amazing. Right now, over 218,000 players are ranked. Many of them are not highly competitive players; some of them only play at prereleases or FNMs. However, a lot of players are quite highly ranked. Gabriel Nassif lead the pack, at this moment, with a total rating of 2280. At the other end, someone in China has managed to drop below 1,000. For the purposes of Worlds, however, you need to be in the top 50 in your geographic region. I didn’t sort by region, but I will note that the player rated 500th in the world has a rating of 1994. If you are not somewhere well above that player, I would not expect to qualify on rating.

My total rating is 1839, not including my 2-1 results at last Friday’s draft. I can qualify on rating if just 8,500 players disappear completely.

Winning Pro Tour points is fine, if you can qualify for the Pro Tour, then do well. That’s not really a serious option, however, if you are not already partway there, or already qualified for Honolulu. After Honolulu, there will only be one more Pro Tour before Worlds. To get there off PT Houston alone, first you will need to win a PTQ. They typically have 100-175 or more players, and only the winner qualifies. After that, you pretty much need to Top 8 the Pro Tour, which will feature 300-400 of the World’s best players.

That’s long odds.

The “easiest” way to get invited to Worlds, assuming you are not already a name, is probably to win an invite at Nationals. I’ll look at what I would have to do, as a U.S. citizen. Your mileage may vary.

First, I will have to play at my local Regionals. For me, that will be the one in either Minneapolis or Chicago. Both will probably have upwards of 300 players — and only the top 4 will qualify. Some areas may have fewer players (Alaska and Hawaii come to mind, but they only offer two slot qualifiers.) Others will have more. I remember reading about past Ohio Regionals where attendance pushed 1000. The number of Regionals has been increased to cut those numbers, and any Regionals with over 400 players participating will offer 8 slots, but that is still long odds.

At the 2008 U.S. Nationals, 90 participating players got there by qualifying in a Regionals. There are 30 Regionals. If the average attendance was around 300, that means that some 9,000 players participated. One in 100 players made it to U.S. Nationals. At U.S. Nationals last year, 218 players participated. Four qualified. That makes the odds of qualifying for Worlds via Regionals 1 in 100 times 4 in 218. The result is about one in 5450 — remarkably close to the one winner against the 5,444 players that earned at least one QP online.

Of course, U.S. Nationals also allows qualification via the Last Chance Qualifiers, City Champs (at least in the past), special invites, etc., so the comparison is hardly perfect, but at least the odds have a nice symmetry: 1 in 5450 / 1 in 5,444.


I can play with the numbers all I like, but the end result is the same. If you want to play in Rome, you really need a couple things. First of all, you need to be good. April Fools articles aside, you cannot qualify for anything real based solely on luck. You need play skills and preparation — and you need a lot of each. If you have those, then you can add some luck — luck mainly in avoiding mana problems and bad matchups — but you need the first two more.

Back in the day, Kai Budde won everything in sight because he practiced more and harder than anyone else. He was prepared, and preparation lead to winning. That doesn’t change. What has changed is that MTGO has become not only a reasonable way of practicing and becoming prepared, but it has become an alternative way to qualify for Worlds. True, only 8 of the 300 or so players at Worlds will have qualified via MTGO, but those eight will have done so.

Wizards has made online play relevant for something beyond practicing drafts.

That’s significant.


“one million words” on MTGO