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Four Ways to Improve Competitive Magic Today

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As a competitive Magic player who's played a majority of the Regional Championships in the United States, there are a few key glaring problems that still persist in the circuit's design. Earlier this month it was revealed by Star City Games, the new tournament organizer for the Regional Championship, that the US RC would be broken into two events, each with 32 Pro Tour invites on the line. This is definitely an overall positive change, but there are some larger problems facing the RC circuit, and competitive Magic as a whole when it comes to a compact system.

While we aren't going back to the old school PTQ and Grand Prix circuit any time soon, I do think there are constructive ways that competitive Magic can be improved, both in terms of events and incentives for engaged competitive players. Here are my thoughts and solutions on how to make competitive Magic better for its avid player base.

#1 Make Standard Relevant at All Times

Standard is by far my favorite Constructed format of all time. I've always enjoyed the rotating format and how lower powered it is compared to Modern and Legacy. The glaring issue is that if you enjoy Standard, you only get to play one major event a year that qualifies for a Pro Tour. This year I played a few Standard RCQs, won one, and then played the US RC. Upon returning from Dallas I looked at my Standard collection and my stomach sank as I realized I wouldn't be able to play with the bulk of these cards competitively until January 2025! Only making Standard relevant for a small chunk of the year seems like a complete miss, both in terms of revitalizing the format, and having players engage in your products.

With two more Standard releases coming up this year why would I need to engage with those products? Sure those cards might be relevant in Modern and Pioneer, but it seems like a waste to have two major Standard releases on your release calendar but no events whatsoever. We even get Standard rotation in the fall but we have to wait five months to play any events!

Solution: Have more Standard events year round

The most reasonable solution to this is just to have more Standard events - and no, I don't mean have one 8-slot Main Event at an already way too expensive MagicCon. I miss the days of going to my LGS on Friday release day, trading and buying new singles for a deck I'd play in a PPTQ the next day. I liked brewing decks and trying to get a head start on the format on week one, while everyone else was figuring out the right way to attack the format. Now, Standard is incredibly more stale as the three-year rotation cycle leaves decks around longer with less innovation. While this does make for better financial investments for players, I hate the feeling of buying cards for only a three-month period and then having to wait a whole year for them to be relevant again.

One day qualifying events, or some sort of Regional PTQ structure sounds like a great solution. That, or just have Standard events at more destination events, like NRG and SCG weekends. I think Standard is a nice break from how powerful formats like Pioneer and Modern can get, and it's frustrating as an engaged player that I can only play the format competitively three months out of the year. Having Standard matter year round would encourage players to engage with more Standard products, have a more shifting metagame, and give some more diversity to what Constructed formats you can play as a competitive Magic player.

#2 Have More Direct to Pro Tour Qualifying Events

Going off my last point, I wish there were more one-day events to qualify for the Pro Tour. Back during MagicCon Chicago this year I was pretty elated to see three of my friends make Top 8 of the Standard main event: Tony Desangles, Isaac Sears, and Miles Nosett. It felt like their hard work and testing paid off, and it was a fantastic event for them to play in. I even thought about traveling to Chicago just for that event, but the price was too steep for me. I weighed my options and ultimately decided to go to Regional Championship Denver without a qualification to play in the events there, as the trip difference was almost $700!

I actually lost in the finals of my last chance qualifier, and lost in the Top 16 elimination round in the Standard Sunday event to miss not one, but technically two RC invites (I did qualify the next weekend though). Chicago being an event where I had to pay $150 to get in the door for the weekend, another $150 to play the main event, and an extra $500+ to get hotel, food, travel, etc felt hard to justify, and I'm sure a lot of other players share this sentiment. I'm happy the MagicCon events exist, but there should be more approachable ways to qualify.

Solution: Let regional tournament organizers run PTQs, or have more PTQs at non-Magic Con events

MagicCons are too expensive to travel to, and they shouldn't be the premier way to play in a direct-to-Pro Tour qualifying event. As I mentioned in my previous point I would much rather have some regional way for tournament organizers to run one-day Pro Tour Qualifiers - and make them Standard! Some sort of additional PTQ system seems like a fantastic way to engage players in Standard, provide more paths to the Pro Tour, but at the same time not give away too many invites that would bloat the attendance of a Pro Tour.

#3 Format Diversity

Another issue I see for competitive Magic is the lack of format diversity in RCQ seasons. As a primarily Limited player, one with a Top 8 in a large event, it saddens me that every RCQ season in my area I look at the events posted and the majority of them are Constructed. It makes sense to me why stores don't usually host Limited events: longer tournaments, having to buy product beforehand, players don't purchase cards. However, with Limited 40% of the Pro Tour it should be encouraged for Limited to be a major way to qualify for the Pro Tour.

With stores now getting to run up to three RCQs a season, I don't think it's unreasonable to have stores be required to run at least one Limited RCQ per season. This allows more diversity among players, especially newer players who don't play a specific Constructed format. I've seen fantastic Limited players qualify for the RC circuit through Limited, but I've also seen a lot barely miss just due to the fact there are no events for them to play in. Having only Constructed RCQs alienates part of your competitive player base. And again, having one MagicCon a year with an incredibly high price tag attached is not the solution for supporting competitive Limited.

While I won't harp on it again, I do think that Standard should be relevant in each RCQ season. As someone who doesn't enjoy Modern gameplay (and the prices of Modern decks) it's saddening to me that I have to essentially miss out a season of RCQs because I don't want to engage with the format. I wouldn't mind if there were less events for me to play in, like an occasional Standard or Limited event, but there are so few Limited events per season in my area it feels like I'll be on hiatus from competitive Magic until Standard starts up again in 2025. I want to be more engaged with competitive Magic, but the opportunities are limited.

Solution: Require more RCQ events, either locally or destination events, to be Standard or Limited

#4 Better Promos and Incentives for Players

This is an issue I see across social media a lot.

Preordain and Supreme Verdict are passable promos, but are these cards competitive players actually want?

On one hand, I don't see the issue in having Regional Championship and RCQ promos be cards that aren't relevant to that Constructed format. What I do care about, however, are promos that are worth decent money, as ways to compensate players for traveling far distances.

For example, the most recent RC promo, Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle is selling around $65+. This number will change with the remaining RCs giving out more promos, but this card is a Constructed staple that promo versions will fetch a higher price tag of.

Dragonlord Silumgar ($14), on the other hand, is not. This decision to print this as a RC promo is just so baffling. It's similar to the printing of another RC promo, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, which fetches a lofty $9. Having promos like these don't serve your competitive player base. They aren't relevant to any Constructed formats and they also don't have any tangible financial value.

Either make these promos Constructed reprints, like Sheoldred, the Apocalypse or make them new Secret Lair art versions of Commander or casual cards, so that they'll fetch a high price tag. While I get why WoTC doesn't want to make these promos just re-skinned Ragavans or Solitudes, at least give them some financial value - show your players you care and you support Constructed play!

Solution: Print promos that are either Constructed staples or make them highly sought after casual cards

Conclusion

Look, I know this article has come off as somewhat negative. I do think there are glaring issues in the current structure of competitive Magic: the Gathering. Magic is still the best game in the world, and I greatly enjoy the opportunities I have to travel to Regional Championships and see friends from around the country.

However, there are glaring problems in the system that I think still persist. I was hopeful with WotC's announcement in mid-2023 to revitalize Standard that Standard would again become a cornerstone of competitive Magic. While I'm upset that Standard and Limited aren't more relevant to qualifying for the Pro Tour, I'm hopeful that as time goes on and we further exit the pandemic-era of Magic where there were literally no events that things will improve as a whole.

I'm hopeful for what the future brings and I'll always be around to battle.

Thanks for reading!

-Roman Fusco

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