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It’s the End of Magic as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)


Well, that was a heck of an announcement. This latest gutting of the Organized Play program has left a lot of people feeling betrayed. I'm not normally one to fear change; if anything, I embrace it. I always try to focus on the positive things in life and not dwell on the negatives. This is something I have to make a conscious effort to do. Otherwise, it's a downward spiral of cynicism and depression.

I've tried to find something positive about the changes . . . I really have. But there is literally nothing good about this for me. Before I launch into the meat of my article, I want to make a few things clear:

People respond to incentives.

The entire study of economics and sociology can be distilled into the above statement. It is among the most fundamental concepts in human interaction. When I talk about incentives, I don't want any of the gravitas to be lost. Every time I use that word, I am talking about someone's decision-making process.

Wizards doesn’t owe us (competitive/professional players) anything.

Playing professional Magic isn't a job, and Wizards is not our employer. At best, we have a reasonable expectation that Wizards will provide incentives to play Magic and promote the product. They are within their rights to terminate that relationship at any time.

I am fully aware that we don’t account for a significant portion of Wizards of the Coast’s revenue.

The fact of the matter is that Wizards of the Coast and its parent company Hasbro are corporations. Corporations only care about profits. I'm not saying that's a good or a bad thing. If anything, as a Ferengi in training, I fully support the acquisition of profit. It's not unusual for Wizards to want to make money—I get that. It's entirely possible that these changes are purely a cost-cutting measure. If that's true, I wish they would just come out and say it. If you want to make more money, fine, but don't disguise it as doing us all a favor.

Worlds was the tournament I most wanted to play in, especially if I was going there as part of my country's national team. Getting to play a different format every day for at least three days? Knowing that not only were all my friends back home cheering for me, but my whole country, too? How cool is that?

Now that's all gone. I never got the chance to play at Worlds, and now I never will. Barring an anomaly like winning a Pro Tour (hah, right), I am never going qualify. This isn't cynicism talking. I'm not saying this out of a lack of self-confidence. This is just the cold, hard truth. The bar for playing at Worlds has been set so high that someone like me doesn't have a hope of making it. My response is to just shrug and stop trying.

I'd like to think that I'm representative of most competitive Magic players. Sure, I've played a few PTs, but I've never been on the gravy train. Just getting to the PT is an accomplishment for someone like me. Normally, I have to grind out PTQs just like everyone else. If I feel like this about Worlds, how do you think someone who plays PTQs but has never played on the PT feels?

 . . . the pride of being your country's champion is a primary motivation for players.

— Helene Bergeot, Director of Organized Play

Yes, Ms. Bergeot, that's true. The pride of being my country's champion is a primary motivation for winning Nationals. You are missing a critical piece of that puzzle. The incentive to be a country's champion is to represent your country at Worlds. Otherwise, it's meaningless. What's the point of being a superhero in a world without crime?

Canada is a large country (second only to Russia), and people come from very great distances to compete at Nationals. Do you seriously think that they will continue to do so for the pride of being the Canadian National Champion? When you take away the primary incentive to go to Nationals, what do you think will happen? I can tell you. “Nationals” will become a regional tournament—no different than States or any other local tournament. I imagine the impact will be similar in other countries.

Looking at the tournament itself, WotC's claim is that a sixteen-person Worlds answers the question of who is the best player in the world better than having a World Champion and a Player of the Year. I find that claim extremely suspect. The best player in the world could very conceivably not even be invited. The criteria are so completely insane that qualifying for Worlds is almost as hard as winning it.

There are the five “win one tournament” invitations, and the rest are Planeswalker Points–based. Eleven out of sixteen slots for a $100K prize purse are based on a system that has not been tested.

We understand the perception is that you can become a pro by accruing Planeswalker Points (grinding at FNMs, etc.). Our intention is that you cannot qualify for the Pro Tour off of small tournaments alone, and we will be monitoring closely to that effect. As we see how the invitations shape up for Pro Tour Dark Ascension, if it ends up that players are getting to the Pro Tour by primarily grinding small events, we will make changes to the system.

— Helene Bergeot

Not only has the Planeswalker Points system not been tested; it has not even been finalized. This is insane. If we were to have Worlds right now with the stated invitation criteria, this would be the player list:

  • Guillaume Matignon
  • Guilaume Wafo-Tapa
  • Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa
  • Carlos Romao
  • Samuelle Estratti
  • David Sharfman
  • Ben Stark
  • Shuuhei Nakamura
  • Martin Juza
  • Josh Utter-Leyton
  • Tzu Ching Kuo
  • Willy Edel
  • Yuuya Watanabe
  • Chikara Nakajima
  • Andreas Ganz
  • Vincent Lemoine
  • Raphael Levy
  • Lukas Jaklovsky

Want to guess who's not invited? Current Player of the Year leader Owen Turtenwald. Third place on that list is Luis Scott-Vargas, who is also not invited.

This isn't the best comparison since the stats from the two groups cover a different time period, but it still serves to illustrate my point.

How can you possibly make the claim that the winner of Worlds is the “best player in the world” when you can’t even figure out how to invite the right players?

I guess this is just my long-winded way of asking, “Why replace a system that works with one that doesn't?”

There is also the issue of removing Pro Points and the Pro Players' Club along with them. This change really doesn't affect me, so I won't talk at length about it. I'm sure many of the players who are affected will write articles about this issue, so if you're interested, please check them out. I can guarantee that their incentives have been radically altered.

The bottom line for me is that these changes take away Nationals and Worlds. Yes, in theory we have more GPs. That's a poor substitute, in my mind. I still have the Pro Tour, but realistically, I can't count on always winning a PTQ. I don't play nearly enough to receive a PWP invite, so winning a Qualifier is the only way I'm going to requalify.

I play Magic as a hobby, not as a job, and certainly not to make money. I'm not going to grind infinite tournaments in the hopes that I might one day receive a PWP invite. At that point, it becomes a job, and a low-paying one at that. Like any rational person, I respond to incentives. When the incentive to go to a GP is lessened by the fact that I can't qualify for the Pro Tour from it, I'm going to make less of an effort to go to these events. The prize payout is not a strong enough incentive to go to a GP that isn't close.

For instance, a few years ago, I flew to Kansas City to play in a GP. I was working at the time, so money wasn't an issue. I just wanted to get away for a weekend. I spent about $300 on my plane ticket, and probably another $200 on a hotel, car rental, food, and so on. Just to break even on the trip, I would have needed to Top 8 the tournament. So what does that tell you about my incentive to travel to GPs? For the same amount of money, I could have gone to Cuba and been drunk for an entire week. Once you take away the PT invites, GPs become a lot less appealing. My situation is not unique. Competitive Magic players with real jobs are going to come to the same conclusion.

In closing, I want to say a few words about why this issue means so much to me. I’m not ashamed to say that I love playing Magic. But what I love more is the memories I have from playing Magic competitively. I’ve been playing for roughly eight years—practically an eternity. In that time, I’ve accumulated a lot of memories, more than my share of tall tales, and a list of lifelong friends I never would have even met had I not ventured out of my hometown to play Magic. I’ve played Magic in three continents, and I’ve had more stamps on my current passport than most people I know will get in their entire lives. Some of my fondest memories are from Nationals—even when I wasn’t qualified. Maybe one day I’ll do a story-time-style article, because I have a lot of stories.

No more Nationals means no more Nationals stories, and to me, that might be the biggest loss of all.

Nassim Ketita

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