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Organized Play, Planeswalker Points, and You

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Most of you have probably heard about the changes that Wizards of the Coast has made to Organized Play. For those who missed it in your holiday craziness, you can read about these changes here.

These changes fix a lot of the problems that were created with the introduction of Planeswalker Points. So far, it seems that all of the pro players are excited and happy about the changes. They brought back the Pro Players Club, and they made the Pro Tour focus on skill rather than quantity of Magic played. That’s great if you’re a pro, but what do these changes mean to the average player? More importantly, what do these changes mean if you’re a PTQ grinder, trying to qualify for your first Pro Tour?

The Good Changes

FNM

Wizards announced that all FNM tournaments will have a 1× multiplier. Previously, the Planeswalker Points multiplier for FNM was 3×. This created a lot of problems. First, it made FNM way too competitive. FNM is a Regular REL event, and its main focus is on having fun. Making the event too competitive drives casual players away from the stores, and it scares away the newer players who are trying to make the jump to competitive play. Without new players, the game won’t grow.

The second problem with the FNM multiplier is the grind to qualify for the FNM Championships. With such a high multiplier, the hardcore grinders were trying to accumulate as many points as possible. Local stores were trying to help their regular players accomplish their goal, so they were doing things like having FNMs with eight rounds for fifteen players—just so more points could be awarded. That made it so the smaller stores had no chance of having their players qualify for the FNM Championships. Again, it was rewarding quantity of play over skill.

The new change to a 1× multiplier fixes both of these problems. Now, the focus of FNM should move back to casual and fun, and the hardcore grinders will most likely stay away.

The Side-Event Multiplier

Wizards announced that the Planeswalker Points multiplier at side events at Grand Prix events are now 3× instead of 5×. With the 5× multiplier, players could scrub out of Day 1 at a Grand Prix and earn more Planeswalker Points than a player who not only made Day 2, but also made Top 8! That’s just crazy. Making Day 2 of a Grand Prix is hard, and it wasn’t fair that people who went 5–4 on Day 1, then won a few eight-man Drafts on Day 2 earned more points that players who were competing in the main event on Day 2. If you were trying to earn a Planeswalker Point—based Pro Tour Invite, it was actually better to go 7–2 on Day 1, then drop from the event, because the side events on Day 2 were so much easier and you could earn more points than at the actual Grand Prix!

The 5× event multiplier for side events made players do crazy things. For example, one player dropped from Worlds with a 1–3 record just to play in side events for the rest of the weekend so that he could still earn his Planeswalker Points invite to Hawaii. I believe that playing in the World Championships is a great accomplishment, and the experience you can earn playing in an event of that level is invaluable. That player ended up not even receiving the invitation. The system that Wizards created made it so players felt that Worlds didn’t matter because the Planeswalker Points you could earn at side events did practically the same thing: qualify you for the Pro Tour. Many players from all over the world flew to San Francisco just to play in side events at the World Championships. Some of those people will even receive an invitation to Honolulu.

I was among the players who gamed the system by attending every Grand Prix last season. Although I did earn an invite to Honolulu by making Top 8 of Grand Prix: Santiago, I still continued to play as much Magic as I possibly could just so I would earn a plane ticket. By the time Worlds in San Francisco rolled around, I was so sick of Magic that I couldn’t even play in the side events. Everyone I knew was double-queuing, but I was at Fisherman’s Wharf enjoying the sites and eating at In-and-Out Burger. Mind you, I was locked for a travel award anyway, so I didn’t need the points, but if I did, believe me, I would have been playing in eight-mans trying to earn points. I have never been so burnt out on Magic in my life. The next week, I played in a PTQ and went 0–2, drop, and I haven’t played competitive Magic since. Magic had become so unfun for me because of the amount of Magic I needed to play to earn my travel award. I’m glad I don’t have to do that again—at least for now.

The change to the 3× multiplier should fix most of these problems. Side events at the Grand Prix will be a lot less competitive than the actual Grand Prix event, which is how it should be. Players will no longer be dropping from the Grand Prix to play in some eight-mans, and they will no longer be signing up for two events at once just to earn the maximum number of points. Skill is once again a requirement to qualify for the Pro Tour.

The World Magic Cup

Months ago, Wizards announced that it was discontinuing the Magic World Championships. Players were outraged by this news. Facebook groups were created, articles and letters were written, and petitions were signed to try to convince Wizards to change its mind.

The best part about the World Championships was the team competition. Over fifty countries from around the world battled it out to see which country would come out on top. For players who came from a small country, it was among the only ways to qualify for the Pro Tour—some of those countries don’t even get a PTQ! Without the World Championships, the dream of playing on the Pro Tour was shot for those players.

Again, Wizards listened to the community and created the World Magic Cup. This tournament is equivalent to the team portion of the World Championship. Each country will have three World Cup Qualifiers (similar to Nationals), and the winner of each will be on that country’s team. In addition, the player with the most Pro Points will be the fourth member of that team. This is a good fix because the dream of the Pro Tour will live on for players from small countries.

The problem with this, however, is that it’s not the World Championships. Large countries, like the United States and Japan, will only have four players to compete, which means that some of the world’s best Magic players won’t be able to play in the World Magic Cup. I don’t think the World Magic Cup is a good substitution for a Pro Tour, but it’s at least better than no World Championships at all.

The Bad Changes

Planeswalker Points

First of all, Wizards essentially killed Planeswalker Points. PWPs can no longer earn you an invitation to the Pro Tour. Now, PWPs only earn you byes at all Grand Prix events for that season. The way it stands now, you need 300 points per season to receive a bye to every Grand Prix, 600 points to receive two byes, and 1200 points to receive three byes. With these point values, now it’s incredibly easy to earn two—and even three—byes at every Grand Prix. That means even more players will have byes at these tournaments, making the byes matter less. I think that the change to a threshold system for byes is fine, but Wizards should have made the threshold much higher, considering how easy it is to accumulate points at the Grand Prix level. A mediocre player who attends four or five Grands Prix this season will earn the 1200 points without much effort, and mediocre players shouldn’t be able to earn three byes that easily.

Qualifying for the Pro Tour

A long time ago, way before PWPs, here’s how you could qualify for the Pro Tour:

  • Win a PTQ
  • Finish in the Top 16 of a Grand Prix
  • Finish in the Top 50 of a Pro Tour
  • Be Level 3 in the Pro Club (invite to one Pro Tour)
  • Be Level 4 or higher in the Pro Club (invite to every Pro Tour)
  • Be on your National Team (Worlds only)
  • Be among the top 100 ranked players worldwide

When Wizards announced the change from the rating system to PWPs, there were only two ways to qualify: win a PTQ, or have a million Planeswalker Points. Winning a PTQ is now harder than ever. The number of players participating in PTQs is at its highest, and now anyone can play in a PTQ except for Level 7 and 8 pros and people who’ve already won PTQs. That being said, under the old system, clearly the best way to qualify for the Pro Tour was by grinding Planeswalker Points.

We already know what kinds of crazy things players did to earn PWPs: fly around the world to play in Grands Prix, attend three FNMs at different stores on a Friday nights, and sign up for two or three events at a time at Worlds. We all knew that this was a problem. Here’s what Wizards changed to try to fix that.

With the new changes in place, here’s how you can qualify for the Pro Tour:

  • Win a PTQ
  • Finish in the Top 4 of a Grand Prix
  • Finish in the Top 25 of a Pro Tour
  • Be a Gold Member in the Pro Player’s Club (25 points)

Seems to be a way better system, right? No more Planeswalker Points, no more grinding, and no more rewards for how much you play. Well, it is better if you are currently a Pro Tour Player. What if you are a PTQ grinder, trying to qualify for the Pro Tour for the first time?

With this new system, the only way for the average grinder to qualify for the Pro Tour is by winning a PTQ. Obviously, you can’t finish in the Top 25 of a Pro Tour if you’ve never played in one. I suppose you can make Top 4 of a Grand Prix. The only problem is that finishing in the Top 4 of a Grand Prix is hard. Look at the Top 8 players of the last four Grand Prix events. The majority of them are Level 7 and 8 pros, Nationals champions, or very consistent, good players. We all get lucky from time to time, but for the average player, this goal is not easy to reach. Remember, Top 8 won’t get you there—you actually need to win your quarterfinal match.

That being said, if you are a competitive player trying to make it on the Pro Tour, under this new system, you’re not going to. Sure, you could win a PTQ. But unless you do extremely well, you won’t be able to qualify for the next Pro Tour, and we probably won’t see you again.

The Pro Club is even more of a joke. The only people who can reach the 25 Pro Points threshold are those who are already established pros. Basically, you will need to Top 25 your first Pro Tour and your second Pro Tour and also do well at most Grands Prix in order to earn the 25 points you need to become a pro. Most good players won’t be able to do that.

The bottom line is that, without PWP invites, Wizards created a system in which current high-level pros can stay on the Pro Tour, and new players are not welcome. Also, they cut a lot of invitations to the Pro Tour.

I think that Wizards should add another level—something similar to the old Level 3—to help good players make that leap. If there was a level in which players could qualify for one Pro Tour of his or her choice, it would help players who are just starting out to reach the 25 points.

Overall, it’s obvious that Wizards made some poor decisions to Organized Play when it switched from Elo ratings to Planeswalker Points. The new changes are a step in the right direction, but they still need a lot of work. It’s upsetting how PWPs don’t mean anything and how easy it is to earn three byes at every Grand Prix. A good way to fix this is to bring back regional invites based on PWPs. The regional invites reward the top ten players from North America and Europe, and the top five players from APAC, Japan, and Latin America with an invite to the Pro Tour. This will reduce the number of players trying to grind onto the Pro Tour with PWPs because of the only twenty-five total invitations being awarded. It will also help players from smaller regions, like APAC and Latin America, who don’t have as many PTQs as players from larger regions, like North America and Japan.

 


Most competitive players dream of becoming pros, and with the way things are now, the majority of these players will never even qualify. I hope Wizards realizes this and does something to make it easier for good players to qualify for and stay on the Pro Tour.