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A whirlwind few weeks of preparing and playing in Magic events, combined with a busy work schedule and some real life hurdles have left me feeling very
relieved as August comes to a close. There’s nothing particularly magical for me on the horizon, which means I’ll be sliding back into a regular routine.
The idea of a routine has always been very comforting to me. While you wouldn’t know it at a glance, I’m an obsessively organized person. I don’t mean
“keeps his Windows Desktop clean except for folders and shortcuts” organized, I mean “keeps those folders and shortcuts organized by genre and
alphabetically with a toolbar sorted by frequency of use” organized. At tournaments, the Dragon’s Egg I carry has one deck and sideboard, ten extra
sleeves, and pre-sleeved matching lands with 35 matching empties inside, a pair of draft sets in one pocket, a cell battery in another, and a notebook in
the back. I keep backup pens separately from my primary writing utensils so that I never loan out the good stuff.
I am, in fact, a crazy person.
However, this is how I live. I enjoy reflection and evaluation, including of my possessions and my priorities for every ounce of utility. Magic has always
existed in this space for me. I’ve known exactly what I wanted out of Magic and remained aware of what I was getting. I think this is becoming an
increasingly important evaluation for anyone, especially in the modern era. As Magic grows, and as your tournament options increase, there’s a wider and
wider range of available choices to make for every Magic player.
It’s this emphasis that’s most significant in light of the recent Organized Play changes.
I love to talk about Magic’s OP because it’s a topic important to me, due to its influence on the game’s future and because I find it inherently
interesting as a study in human behavior. In fact, OP changes’ actual impacts on my own life are at best the third most interesting thing about them to me
The most recent change to the PTQ system, like so many changes before it, has earned a significant amount of grumbling from many players. However, many of
these players are finding themselves hung up on that failure to be objective, allowing their bias to cloud how they think about Magic–a not uncommon
handicap among the general player population in-game, as well. It’s easy to grumble about how bad something is for you, and indeed you should be aware of
it, but there’s more to every story than your own perspective.
I like the new system.
I say this as someone who has probably become less likely to qualify as a result of it, but I say it because I think it’s good for Magic and that means
it’s good for me.
Because this system emphasizes opportunity and engagement of the greater player base, not just the players actually good enough to play on the Pro Tour.
Current PTQs vary from entertaining to pointless for players who just want a fun and challenging event, depending upon the formats, organizers, and prize
structures involved. Games whose premier events fail to consistently attract recreational players have performed historically poorly, and Magic’s success
stems from its ability to include. With options increasing, this is a fantastic redesign for the consumer. They can choose from a larger number of
weekends, attend only the stores they like, play the formats they prefer, and vote with their wallets in an open market of thousands of events.
Options breed competition, and competition breeds a superior product. It may take some massaging and a few months of adaptation, but in the end I expect to
see great things grow from this for Magic.
In addition to providing options, the system most importantly allows for sustained growth. This PTQ system will qualify a very controllable number of
players for Wizards–a maximum of eight per region per season–while being able to provide opportunities and events for way more players. I’ve been a
proponent on Twitter of finding systems that could work years from now as opposed to stopgaps, and this one qualifies in my eyes. They’ve already
advertised 3100+ Preliminary PTQs, and growing that number is certainly not out of the question. In fact, it’s one of the ideal solutions to the predicted
problem of Preliminary PTQs growing too large! By increasing events and eventually even same-weekend tournament proximity, players will be able to
custom-design their level of weekly participation.
Does this affect the Pro Tour itself? No, not really. Do I expect the best players to still succeed more often? Yes, 100%. Have you seen the insane levels
of consistent finishes this season in spite of record-breaking attendance averages?
More events, more options, great things for Magic.
I am admittedly wary of inconvenient Regional placement/timing potential, but by and large this is a medium problem for a small group of people. I’d
encourage you to read PV’s latest for a take on the potential
effects internationally, as I agree with his concerns but believe we’ll see more opportunities expand from this start, which we’ll certainly not be stuck
with in its precise form forever. Even if no changes to benefit these players occur… it may seem cold to say, but many of the most negatively affected are
not important to the bottom line. At the end of the day, this is still a business.
Even so, we’ve shown no signs of slowing or stopping this growth so far–the only hurdle to riot-level Grand Prix attendance has become tournament
organizer proficiency. Attending GP Portland this weekend it was clear to me exactly how competitive and influential this particular corner of the market
has become. My last Cascade Games event was Grand Prix Anaheim about three years ago, and the difference between that event and this one is night and day.
I don’t mean to say Anaheim was bad–it was average–but the level of attention and effort in Portland was worthy of respect, especially considering the
nature of the event as a post-Pro Tour tournament in a unique and historically difficult to structure format. It may seem biased to say that SCG has been
at the forefront of Grand Prix evolution–I’m quite sure it’s true, but you’re welcome to disagree–but what’s most important is how other organizers are
lining up to join the cause.
I love a willingness to experiment. The four-day GP is an interesting attempt to leverage the Pro Tour’s proximity, and though I don’t think it’s
worthwhile, I’ll be curious to see where we land on the idea. The prize wall system, the emphasis on panels, and the $100 event bracelet were all great
ways to build appeal and get players in the door on days when the main event either wasn’t firing or the players had been eliminated–major sticking
points, if you’ll recall my article on Grand Prix tournament
Kudos to Cascade Games for putting on one of the better events I’ve been to in some time. The only major points of criticism I had were the round
turnovers–I believe Day 1 took approximately 14 hours from start to finish–and the marketing. Portland was an SCG-quality event, but without the hype
machine that is SCGLive driving the wagon I don’t think all the players really knew to expect that going in. Both the bracelet and the four days, for
example, remained unknown to many, and attendance could’ve greatly benefited from a stronger marketing drive and completing the website earlier. Debuting
with missing information is always dangerous because many people won’t visit you again once they think they know what’s going on.
Back to Grass Roots
Let’s look at third-party tournament organization, primarily the SCG Open Series and the TCGPlayer circuit.
Both of these models have made incredible gains over the last few years, but they’ve been filling a void Wizards is now stepping into–competitive local
events for popular formats. It’s actually the previous successes of these systems that make me confident in the new PTQ system. They’ve remained at
manageable sizes and helped stores both grow their player bases and gain a greater understanding of successful organized play. I can only speak for SCG,
but I know that the internal effort at SCG to ensure IQ stores put on good events is a worthy cause, and I hope Wizards can dedicate the same level of
store support and guidance, at least in coming months.
I predict, again, great things for the community as a result of this expansion at the ground level.
Take a player like Jeff Hoogland. Jeff’s solid, but between his family life, professional life, and the nature of the ceaseless grind toward the gravy
train, Jeff’s no longer actively seeking the one-time holy grail of a competitive Magic player: a Pro Tour invitation. Instead, Jeff has focused on
streaming the decks and formats he enjoys while actively focusing on the SCG Open Series to satisfy his competitive drive.
Does the PTQ system favor Jeff more now than before? No one knows yet, and in the end only Jeff will know for sure. My point is that it doesn’t actually matter. What matters is that the growth of Magic and the diversification of available events gives Jeff the power to choose.
He can control the kind of Magic experience he desires and build it into his life in the way that best suits him. I find that quite a beautiful change to
the way the market for Magic tournaments looked five or more years ago, and I doubt I’ll be alone once we’ve settled into a new status quo.
There’s certainly a cost to being the pioneer here. I can’t envision a world where Preliminary PTQs aren’t competing with SCG’s IQs and TCGPlayer’s
MaxPoints events, which means we may see a redesign coming in 2015. Regional PTQs also bear a strong resemblance to Regionals/States-style events, so
there’s friction there.
Again, these kinds of changes benefit players because they must necessarily appeal to the market, which has enough choices for participation that their
spending power is live. People have constantly complained about feeling like they don’t have a voice; with three different competitive series available
across the country, you’ve never had more say in who deserves your patronage. Choose wisely!
Which brings me full circle.
I’ve had an interesting Magic career, beginning in 1998. Over those years, Magic’s role in my life has been diverse: hobby, outlet, obsession, community,
career, passion. I can’t envision my life without it–though it’s always easy to joke I’d be much wealthier and more responsible. As we sit on the cusp of
another change to the Magic world, I find myself moving past how the changes affect Magic and how the players react and moving to that third interest: my
Figuring out the dimensions of the void you need Magic to fit can be difficult. The past nine months of my life have included a great deal of upheaval,
both personally and professionally. I’ve moved, changed jobs, gained and lost friends and family; most recently I received an unexpected medical diagnosis
characterized by an uncertain future. I’m fine, so no worries; the reason I note it is because, in addition to making some significant lifestyle changes,
it has encouraged me to more carefully evaluate my perspective and choices, past and present. Among the choices I remain proud of is Magic. Having such an
engaging constant in my life has been a great comfort, as readers might imagine based on the beginning of this article, and now moreso than ever.
To everyone who has made this last month fun and interesting and challenging for me, thank you. I’ve appreciated you more than you knew, but that’s why I
make a point of choosing awesome friends. When one of your regrets is that your friends are too great in both quantity and quality to be effectively
enjoyed, you have quite the first world problem.
That intuitive sensation of a story approaching its end has likely begun to buzz in the back of your mind–but I’m going to leave you wanting because the
story’s not over yet. It may never be over. Just as I expect we see these OP changes to evolve and adjust, I’m not precisely sure what role Magic will take
for me with a new season on the horizon, or where it will lead me next.
But I expect more opportunities and, in turn, great things.