After competing in the first round of Regional PTQs and getting 9th (boo) with my Den Protector Abzan Deck, I originally wanted to talk about my tournament and my deck, which I really liked. But I’m gonna postpone that for now since that whole tournament experience really got me thinking about the new Regional PTQ system, so I figured it might be more interesting to write about those thoughts first – where I stand on the new system and what measures I’d propose to improve it further.
Let me preface this entry by saying that everything that I’m about to write is solely applicable to my own, individual perspective. Based on where you live and how much you’re willing to commit to Magic, your opinion of the new system might be a completely different one, and that’s just as correct (or wrong) as my opinion. I’m just trying to explain why I feel that the new system is great for me and I’m certainly not gonna be able to speak for every Magic player out there. Though, if you do feel strongly about the new system one way or the other, I encourage you to voice your opinion in the comments (German or English) – I’m going to compile all of your feedback in a neat e-mail to Wizards should there be enough of it. And I’m certainly gonna try to get some of the WotC folks to read this post.
How it used to be
Explaining why I like the new PTQ system is probably easiest by explaining why I disliked the old one. Around 2011 or 2012 (I think?), the number of PTQ tournaments in my region (Southern Germany) dwindled from around six or seven down to three or four. A lot of these PTQs that got taken away from us were instead awarded to the United States, but also to emerging markets like Italy. That might have been justified, but it made PTQs a lot less enjoyable for me personally.
Part of the reason for that is that I simply had less tournaments to go to. It’s not like I actually played all seven PTQs of a given season before; I basically never did that. But having half a dozen PTQs in my vicinity gave me the luxury to skip some of them and only attend those where I had the time and desire to actually play in. I didn’t have to feel bad about skipping a PTQ in Nuremberg, knowing there’d be another one in Salzburg a week later.
That all changed when the number of PTQs in my area got sliced in half. Now I actually felt compelled to compete in every PTQ in my area, because skipping one had a much higher cost all of a sudden. If there was a PTQ in Nuremberg, I basically had to play in it, because there was no ersatz event I could attend in its place. I never was dead-serious about qualifying for the Pro Tour, but if I did want to give it kind of a shot, I couldn’t afford to skip events willy-nilly like I used to.
Of course, after one or two seasons, I did that anyway, hitting up more GP’s in their stead and marking the point where I simply didn’t pursuit PTQs anymore, at least not in a serious manner. I always attended my hometown PTQ in Munich if we had one, and I was still down for the occasional crazy roadtrip, but there were also seasons where I played no PTQ at all. Looking back in my DCI history, I realize that I played in only four Pro Tour Qualifiers in all of 2013, for instance.
The other reason is that by cutting the numbers of PTQs in half, the remaining PTQs got a lot bigger. The relocation of PTQs also came at a time when the Magic boom of ‘09 began to translate into the tournament scene, leading to higher attendance numbers in general. PTQs went from having 60 to 70 players to having 150 players in some cases, especially when it was Sealed season. The consequences being
- You had a winner-takes-it-all style tournament where 149 players had nothing to show for except maybe some boosters and a playmat. I can accept a tournament structure like that with 60 to 70 players, but with double that number, I felt it was getting ridiculous. (I also greatly dislike WMCQ’s for that reason, fwiw.)
- In some cases, tournament organizers were not prepared for that many players, leading to overcrowded venues and bad tournament experiences. Some TOs had to introduce a cap, which meant turning away players who actively wanted to give you money.
- More players also meant longer tournaments, so you pretty much had to spend your whole Saturday on a PTQ, not even being able to make plans for the evening if you did reasonably well. (Plus, you obviously had longer overall travel times if you were starting to hit up more remote tournaments in response to the PTQ cuts.)
So to summarize: PTQs were getting sparse, and when there were any, they were grueling, crowded and creating a lot of feel-bad. I feel like the new RPTQ systems addresses all of those problems in very elegant ways.
How it’s now
First, you have a fair number of tournaments to choose from again. That might actually not be great for the stores themselves, because it means that their player base is travelling more in lieu of attending local store events, but it’s great for me as a player. I can solely attend the events I really want to play in, and I can also allow myself the luxury of neglecting more elaborate road trips, because I have enough events to play in that don’t require me to travel extensively for them. Where a PTQ in Nuremberg used to be one of the nearest-located PTQs I could have attended, I can now attend like six PPTQs that are more convenient for me, including two in my hometown.
Second, the tournaments themselves are much shorter. I really enjoy the fact that I basically never have to get up at some ungodly hour for Magic anymore. I also love that I get to make plans for the evening of a tournament again. PPTQs are so much smaller that they have the luxury to start at later hours than a PTQ and still be finished earlier. So instead of getting up at 6AM and being home at 10PM, I now have to get up at maybe 8AM and be home at 8PM, and that’s already for one of the more extensive trips. I mean, I have no problem with getting up early to do something I love, but I’m also reaching an age where you really learn to appreciate the value of a good night’s sleep. (I’m getting old, is what I’m saying.)
And third, the new system mitigates feel-bad moments. As I said, I think it sucks that in a 150 player tournament, only one player can reasonably call himself a winner. Instead of three 150 player tournaments around Southern Germany, you now have like twelve 40-player-tournaments, which creates a lot more winners. Of course, the award for your win is much less valuable now, but it still makes you feel kinda good about yourself. The Regional PTQ’s also solve this problem by awarding four to eight Pro Tour slots, leading to a structure where a good five to ten percent of attendants can call themselves winners.
Improving the RPTQ experience
I didn’t really know what to expect from the first RPTQ when we arrived at the Cerny Rytir in Prague Saturday morning, but I gotta say that this was one of the most fun non-Nationals tournaments I’ve ever played in. (Just wanted to make a very subtile plug that I really miss Nationals.) All the players were focused, competent and highly competitive, but still relaxed and just happy to be there, which I think is the perfect spot to be in when it comes to high-level Magic tournaments. In that sense, the RPTQ kinda felt like a GP Day 2, and I think that’s a very good thing.
With competitors from the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, Slowakia, Croatia, Austria, Southern + Eastern Germany etc. in attendance, the tournament also kinda felt like some sort of Eastern European Championship, which I really liked. I wonder if we could play that aspect up a bit. What if we rebranded the RPTQs to something like the “Regional Championships”? Eight invitation-only tournaments all over Europe every quarter, and the four best players of each tournament can call themselves Regional Champion and gain a qualification to the Pro Tour. Wouldn’t that sound much cooler? (Maybe even with an end-of-the-year tournament for all the Regional Champions in a given region, if we’re already spitballing?)
A good indicator for how cool a tournament sounds is telling (non-Magic-playing) girls about what you’re doing this weekend. Grand Prix? Sure, sounds kinda exciting. Pro Tour? Oooh, I guess you have to be good in order to play in those. Regional PTQ? Meh, sounds boring. But a Regional Championship? People can probably grok what that is.
I feel like a rebranding is also important to make the RPTQs attractive for newer and/or more casual players. I’ve made the experience that a lot of those players enjoy playing in PPTQs, since they’re sweet local events, but have no desire whatsoever to play in an RPTQ. Maybe that is by design, but I doubt that the amount of RPTQ slots being straight-up sold in the finals of PPTQs is in WotC’s best interest. My finals opponent from the PPTQ I won didn’t care about playing “in another PTQ three hours away”, as he put it, so he happily conceded to me. But I bet he would’ve cared about playing in a Regional Championship.
The title “PTQ” is obviously good for indicating what the primary path to the Pro Tour is, so a rebranding effort certainly comes at a cost. But I honestly don’t think it matters that much. More enfranchised players already know about all the paths to the PT, and less enfranchised players either don’t care about the PT or can get that information elsewhere. Plus, GP’s seem to have become a better source for Pro Tour slots anyway.
Other than that, I really feel like Wizards were trying to make the tournament feel special, and they succeeded in a lot of areas. The prize payout was obviously great, for example. I also like the idea of making coverage mandatory for every TO, but I don’t know if the production of a video coverage is a realistic requirement, as a lot of people on social media suggested. For one, video coverage takes up a lot of resources, good video coverage at least. It also takes up a lot of physical space that many TO’s probably don’t have. I have no idea where Prague’s Cerny Rytir could’ve stored all the necessary equipment, and I’d be sad if they never received another RPTQ again. But I think it’s realistic to demand a text coverage at the very least. If a very dedicated TO wants to produce video coverage – great. But text coverage requires like one dude with a laptop, and that’s something every TO should be able to deliver. (And then you can link to all the coverages from the Wizards website.)
Oh, and one last thing: I feel like it was a gross oversight that the RPTQs didn’t get their own #RPTQ hashtag on Twitter. I was really excited to see what was going to happen at the other RPTQs all over the world, but the lack of a mutual hashtag made that a lot more difficult than it needed to be. Some people eventually made #RPTQ their own hashtag, but it kinda felt like a wasted opportunity.
So, in summary: I think the new PTQ system is awesome, and I can’t wait to compete in my next Regional PTQ. On that note, I think it would be great if the top 16 of every RPTQ automatically qualified for the next one, and I’m totally not biased on that, I swear.
See you guys around!
HOW DID YOU LIKE THE NEW SYSTEM? DISCUSS!