Organized Play Changes: Thoughts From a “Pro”

Gold Pro Tyler Hill drops by to talk about the recent changes made to the Pro Club levels, Organized Play, and offers up some of his "professional" analysis.

Greetings everybody, my name is Tyler Hill and I’m currently a Silver level pro with 32 points, but am locked for Gold with the upcoming Pro Tour in Kyoto. Currently I’m waiting in an airport en route to Japan so I figured I’d share some of my thoughts regarding Organized Play and some other newsworthy events from the perspective of a “pro” player.

Before I get too far ahead of myself, if you’re not aware of the changes, you can read the article from Elaine Chase right here.

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Change #1 – Addition of Bronze: Excellent

This is a big quality-of-life upgrade for the stereotypical “grinder”. By far the easiest way to qualify for the Pro Tour is to be ‘on the train’ so to speak – hitting Silver/Gold/Platinum levels. The easiest way to get on the PT in the first place is usually via a Regional Pro Tour Qualifier win.

Previously, players aspiring to compete at the PT often had to make a choice – either grind Grand Prixs, hopefully hit Silver and do well at their PT, or play the Preliminary PTQ circuit and try to get an RPTQ invite. If your path to the PT involved multiple GPs it’s easier to stay qualifid, but harder to do in the first place. If you went the PPTQ route, your chances are higher, but it’s harder to stay qualified if you don’t have any Pro Points.

Sure you could theoretically grind GPs aggressively in addition to the PPTQs – but this is a very exhausting proposition and often difficult to justify. Sometimes you’ll see a player “level up” after doing well at a major event – most of the time they didn’t get significantly better, it’s just that their success allowed them to dedicate more time.

Now, under the new system, players trying to ‘go pro’ can now simply grind Grand Prixs as hard as possible – hitting Bronze in the process and no longer needing to play in PPTQs – which will likely have the effect of increasing the quality of PPTQs for those playing in them.

There’s another hidden benefit of this change – reduction in collusion at GPs. Previously, it was very very common for players to be competing at X-5, where one player needed the single Pro Point, whereas the other player did not. This is much less likely to happen now, since with Bronze more people are going to be chasing points.

The downside to this change is that even more players will be locked out of playing in PPTQs – most people I know dont want to HAVE to play PPTQs – but it is nice to be able to play a competitive local tournament occasionally, so not being able to because you are already qualified for the RPTQ can be annoying.

Change #2 – Static Seasons to “cycles”: Net Positive

Explanation: The issue of different PTs being worth wildly different amounts, like being qualified for the first PT of the season is far better than being qualified for the last was a big problem for people trying to get on the pro train.

Personally, I’m going to hit Gold for the first time this season after being Silver status for the previous two. I don’t think I am particularly better now than I was before, it’s more to do with having several invites ‘lined up’ that I was able to justify playing in a bunch of GPs with the goal hitting Gold from day 1 of the season.

With regards to quality-of-life stuff, the benefits of cycles is a lot murkier than Wizards makes it out to be. Before, if I had a good result early in the season and wasn’t trying to hit Platinum – I could rest easier knowing Gold was well within reach. Now, that result will stop mattering much sooner – I’m constantly under pressure to acquire more pro points, and if I slack or have a bad streak in a cycle, I’m going to lose my benefits.

Previously, grinding to hit Gold seemed like a worthwhile goal – an entire season’s worth of safety from falling off the PT. Now, you only get that security for a single PT. The new Gold level feels a lot like the old Silver level – you’re constantly grinding and under the gun for points.

Wizards also mentions that having cycles improves their flexibility of making changes – this is overall net positive although ideally any significant changes continue to have significant lead-up time so players can plan accordingly.

I believe if Wizards wants to reduce variance, one way they could do so is by averaging over multiple years.

Current System: Silver/Gold/Platinum at 20/35/52 points previous year.

Potential New System #1: Silver/Gold/Platinum at 21/37/54 points previous year.

Potential New System #2: Silver/Gold/Platinum. at 22/38/56 points averaged over the last two years.

Potential New System #3: Silver/Gold/Platinum at 23/40/59 points averaged over the past three years.

Obviously these numbers would have to be tinkered with, but you get the idea. This could easily be generalized to cycles as well. However, it seems very unlikely Wizards would implement this idea because it denies them the flexibility they value.

If you have an amazing 80 point season, and suddenly they announce changes to Organized Play and no longer average over multiple seasons, you’re going to be hopping mad – they want and need to avoid making promises they can’t keep.

Conclusion: Their heart is in the right place, and their reasoning for switching to cycles is sound – but it’s unclear whether the changes address quality-of-life issues in the way they had hoped.

Change #3 – Phantom Nuking of Pro Benefits: Net Negative

They seem to be marketing the changes as essentially keeping Silver, Gold, and Platinum the same, while simply switching to moving cycles rather than a fixed season. In reality, they’re significantly reducing some pro benefits.

Allow me to use Silver as an example. Under the previous system, a ‘silver’ pro would routinely receive two PT invites a year, not one. This is because under the old system, you got the Pro Club benefits immediately as you crossed the threshold – and for all of the next season as well.

So lets say you were Silver in season one. Then in season two you qualify for the first PT of the year (call it A) with Silver, and so you grind GPs so that after Pro Tour C you’ll hit the Silver threshold again. This will allow you to use a second Silver invite that season to qualify for Pro Tour D. In effect, the change makes it so Silver qualifies you for 1 out of every 4 PTs as opposed to 2 out of every 4 PTs – they cut the benefit essentially in half!

Let’s look at the effect of winning a Pro Tour. Previously if you won the first one or, ‘A’of a season, it would lock you for Platinum for all of that season – and all of next season. You were guaranteed Platinum for the next 7 Pro Tours! What about if you won the last PT of the season? Well, in that case you were locked for the next 4 PTs – still all of the next season.

Under the new system, winning a Pro Tour will give you Platinum for the next 4 cycles. This is equal to the ‘worst case’ scenario above – and is far short of the best case scenario.

The big difference here is that under the old system – pro level benefits applied immediately and to all of the next season. The new ‘cycle’ system is equivalent to having the benefit only apply to the next season – so it is essentially equal to the ‘worst case’ scenario of before, where you acquired your benefits at the last Pro Tour.

This change is subtle enough that many pros may have read the announcement and not even realized their benefits may have been cut.

Some final notes: Prize support is a zero sum game. Obviously if Wizards doubled the prize support for all Premiere Play events that would be great for players, but that just isnt realistic**. As a player, when offering feedback or suggestions, I think we should focus on ideas that keep the total prize offered by Wizards the same – just distributed in a more equitable way.

Wizards wants to be fair and equitable given the resources they’re allotted. They also want their pros to be happy. They’re smart and passionate people. So, while obviously “losing” benefits as described above may seem bad – it also may not be – it could simply be a reallocation of resources.

Imagine for a second if Wizards had completely abolished pro levels entirely: Would the pros lose money? Yes. But at the same time, the Pro Tour would be much smaller – and each PT would be more valuable to each person who did manage to qualify. This change would actually benefit the RPTQ winner – as I said before prizes are zero sum – Wizards gives out a fixed amount of money.

**I mentioned doubling prizes isn’t a realistic proposition. How could we make it more realistic? We need to make that a profitable move for WotC. If they believed paying pros more would earn the company more money – then they would do it. This means figuring out how we, as the players, can grow the game and make it the best it can be. When Magic as a whole is growing – it benefits players and Wizards of the Coast both. Its a win/win. As a pro, I can do that in several ways – but one of the most important is likely to be a positive role model in the community.

We know that sometimes WotC missteps – but remember that the more enfranchised you are, the more them doing well benefits yourself. Its easy to focus on things like bungled communication, FNM promos, and getting a little outraged at WotC – but their goal wasn’t to harm the community, it was to foster a better play environment and grow the game so you have more friends to play against. And put more $ in their pockets too, let’s be real – they’re a business after all.

It’s understandable to voice disappointment in what may seem at times like incompetence, but venting likely accomplishes less than constructive criticism.

Last controversial note: When wizards announced their 25th anniversary event with Team Trios – it seemed likely to be an event that celebrated Magic’s history – and what better way to do that but by having players play with old cards. Star City Games being able to predict that based on publicly available information isn’t exactly rocket science.

TL;DR I know this is the internet but lets try to be nice to each other 😉 We’re all on the same team.

Tyler Hill is a current Gold Pro. He’s had multiple SCG Open Top 8’s, along with several Top 32 GP finishes.

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